by Julie Mellin
The Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA) was well-represented at the recent International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. GYCA’s Link Up lead, Julie Mellin, along with Eastern Europe & Central Asia Regional Focal Point Anna Szczegielniak and Middle East & North Africa Regional Focal Point Rewan Youssif participated in both the conference and the Youth Pre-Conference. Patrick Bonales, Asia Pacific Regional Focal Point, also participated in the Interfaith Pre-Conference. They were also joined by more than 10 GYCA members, several GYCA founders, and two GYCA Focal Points from the Link Up project.
As a member of the Melbourne Youth Force, GYCA participated in the Youth Pre-Conference and contributed to the development of the 2014 Youth Action Plan, a set of concrete actions that governments, policy makers, and healthcare professionals alike can commit to and put into action in their work. The Plan was written collaboratively by the more than 100 young leaders from 56 different countries who participated in the Youth Pre-Conference. Among other things, the Plan addresses treatment and care for young people living with HIV; the removal of laws that are harmful to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights; access to complete and non-judgmental sexuality education in all facets of young people’s lives; and addressing the social factors that lead to discrimination and stigma. Tellingly, the Youth Action Plan is separated into four areas: Treat, Reform, Educate, and Love.
At the conference, the GYCA team co-moderated and organized several sessions that focused on putting young people at the center of the global HIV/AIDS response. Clear messages emerged at the conference—particularly, that young people and adolescents (aged 10-19) need to be the focus of HIV programming and policy, and not as targets, but as leaders. According to a WHO report released this year, adolescents are the only age group in which HIV-related deaths are rising, and HIV is the second leading cause of death of adolescents worldwide. The report made waves at the conference, and many of the Youth Programme and other sessions cited it in making the case for youth leadership in the HIV/AIDS response.
In one of the sessions co-organized by GYCA, Cédric Nininahazwe of the Burundi Network of Young People Living With HIV closed his moderator’s remarks with a few words of advice: "Don't just say, ‘young people need,’ but let young people express their needs, and design their own projects." Nininahazwe echoed a message that the youth HIV movement has heralded for years. In this session and many others at the IAC delegates made it clear that decision-makers must ensure young people have the knowledge, agency, and opportunity to make their own decisions.
Another session moderated by GYCA centered on the effectiveness comprehensive sexuality education programming that is designed and led by young people. Speakers shared their own experiences with sex ed – most of which were either non-existent or something akin to a basic anatomy lesson – and shared evidence of successful programming in which young people write their own curriculum and in many cases, deliver it.
For 10 years GYCA has advocated for the agency of young people in decision-making about their own lives, and for supporting young people to lead the HIV movement. This message reverberated at the 2014 International AIDS Conference, both in our work and in the Youth Action Plan, and are excited to see it move forward meaningfully!