ISFIT: On the Global HIV/AIDS Pandemic
I am honored to be here, at the 11th International Student Festival in Trondheim.
When I speak in my role as UNAIDS-representative, I often start by asking: Can everybody in the room who are under 25 please raise their hands? Not many hands are raised, and unfortunately mine neither. It does not count that you would like to be 25 again.
It is a problem whenever we are discussing the AIDS-response, without including young people. It wouldn`t be such a big problem if it wasn’t for the fact that 40% of new infections are among young people under the age of 25.
The constant lack of funding for youth led initiatives and lack of opportunities for young people to be part of decision making are important challenges.
An additional challenge is the severe stigma and social exclusion still connected to the disease. Openness and fight against taboos are therefore important parts of the AIDS-response.
HIV can be controlled and defeated. We know a lot about what works. Still more research, funding and services are required. In each country we need a higher level of committed political leadership and broader partnerships. But most important: Young people and their networks need to be at the core of leadership.
We need to recognize youth as instrumental in understanding and driving the change that is needed in the new AIDS response.
We need your ideas, your perspectives and your knowledge – and your way to take effective advantage of social media.
Much progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go, and young people must be our guides. It isn’t enough to simply invite young people to sit at the table with established leaders. They need to be drivers of the decision-making process and youth led initiatives like ISFiT must be supported.
In my role with UNAIDS I consider helping to strengthen young leadership to be my most important task. I have been fortunate enough to meet a lot of young people living with HIV, who are taking local or global leadership roles in the AIDS-response.
The summer of 2009 we had the pleasure of hosting around 40 people from around the world to a Young Leaders Summit in Oslo. Over three days we discussed how to maximize young people's efforts in their AIDS related work.
I was truly impressed and inspired by their openness, their courage, their energy and their strong commitment.
One of the participants, Himakshi Piplani from India, said:
“Young people are now standing up and highlighting the core values of our society that we hold strong. Young people are moving forward into the future with compassion and respect for human rights, which is essential for changing discriminatory attitudes related to HIV”.
I´m optimistic about the future, because I know that young leaders around the world are ready to take the relay stick from the established leaders and be the drivers of “Getting to zero”.
I`m also optimistic because, for the first time, the the number of new infections is declining.
But we still have work to do. One of the most important steps we can take today is to set the foundations for an HIV-free next generation, by involving young people in the strategic work, and by securing leadership for the future.
I urge world leaders to establish proper support for young leaders to maximize their effectiveness and impact.
I urge established leaders to give youth the space, visibility and credibility to lead, trough the transfer of knowledge, loyal support and mentorship.
The AIDS- response needs a new generation of leadership. We need young leaders of today, not for tomorrow.
I strongly believe in youth – involve yourselves!