Comment: What is it like to live in the World without AIDS?

"ALL THE YOUNG PEOPLE STANDING WERE BORN AFTER THE PANDEMIC. WE DO NOT KNOW A WORLD WITHOUT AIDS"

Dear SEA-AIDS members,

According to UNAIDS around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are of 25 years and are killed by AIDS before they are 35.

Yet there's little involvement of youth leadership in responses to AIDS.

With few weeks before the World AIDS Day, it may be worth remembering youth voices at 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) held in Sri Lanka.

A statement from the only youth representative at 8th ICAAP, Ari Yuda Laksmana (Indonesia), a member of Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA), on Youth Participation in HIV and AIDS responses, shouldn't be forgotten.

At the beginning of Ari's speech, he invited the participants who attended the Youth Forum at ICAAP to stand up and remain standing during his remarks. Only about 15 people out of a thousand stood up.

"To the rest of you who are seated, I have a question for you. What is it like to live in a world without AIDS?" he asked, allowing a few minutes for his question to bounce in the deafening silence.

"All the young people standing were born after the pandemic. We do not know a world without AIDS. We are already responding in our own way to HIV and AIDS. We are running programs, educating peers, pushing for social change and uniting in this fight around the world" he added.

He called for better participation of youth in decisions that affect their lives.

"We strongly urge you to begin viewing us as equal partners in the response to HIV and AIDS and to move beyond the rhetoric of youth participation by funding youth-led initiatives, engaging in true youth-adult partnerships and meaningfully involving young people in policy that affects our lives," he said.

Also, Ari lamented the lack of representation of youth at the conference.

"Look around this room, what does that tell you about youth participation in this congress? Despite the fact that we comprise over half of all new infections, from the 19 plenary speaker at ICAAP, only ONE was young person talking about youth issues," remarked Ari.

"For all the youth issues in the region and around the world, we had ONE chance to meaningfully address the entire congress  me speaking to you right now," he said.

In ICAAP 2007, only one youth speaker out of 19 plenary speakers, one youth related plenary session to be addressed has been cancelled and none of 33 satellite meeting was arranged by youth.

Ari effectively had communicated the pressing need felt by youth - for more participation, more space on the representatives platform, more of young people living with HIV to provide more youth perspectives on large number of issues. He also asked for youth to be given scholarships, facilitate the meeting of youth at the Congress, and high-level policy makers to advocate for youth specific policy and opportunities to seek funding.

"It is our hope that one day when we ask the youth present in the room to rise, they will be the ones who have known a world without AIDS. See you in Bali" with these words he closed his statement with thumping support from the delegates. Next ICAAP is scheduled to be held in Bali, Indonesia in 2009.

The last word of Youth representative in closing ceremony of 8th ICAAP remained etched in audience's heart.

For World AIDS Day 2007,  with the great theme of 'Leadership', let us demonstrate greater commitment for more opportunities to meaningfully engage youth and adult to work together in fighting against the AIDS epidemic. It also presents us with an opportunity to foster leadership in young people to effectively respond to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support needs especially for young people.

With more youth participation, our youth will have a chance to know "What is it like to live in the world without AIDS", one day.

Thanks

Jittima Jantanamalaka
Thailand
Email: jnaton@yahoo.com

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Jittima Jantanamalaka-CNS

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