AIDS 2016 Statement
Sixteen years after Nelson Mandela rallied the world and called on us to “to “break the silence, banish stigma and discrimination, and ensure total inclusiveness within the struggle against AIDS,” Advocates for Youth, alongside over 18,000 HIV activists, advocates and researchers, returned to Durban, South Africa on the occasion of the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016).
Marking the progress made since those historic remarks, young leaders and activists in the fields of health care, public policy, and education, all committed to keeping up the fight until we reach an AIDS-free generation gathered in Durban to refocus global attention on the need to strengthen the global AIDS response.
Dignitaries including UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon, International AIDS Society President Chris Beyrer, UN AIDS Director Michele Sidibé, UN Messenger of Peace Charlize Theron, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Chairman Bill Gates, Sir Elton John and Prince Harry among others, gathered in Durban under the conference theme: “Access, Equity, Rights, Now” focused on protecting the most vulnerable populations and on scaling up prevention and treatment for women, girls, and all young people.
Concerns about the decline in donor financing for HIV as highlighted in the new UNAIDS/Kaiser Family Foundation Report dominated much of the discussion within the halls of the Durban Convention Center. UNAIDS Director Sidibé echoed those concerns throughout the week stating that lack of funding create immediate barriers to make the global scale up of treatment and prevention, considered essential to ending the epidemic, a reality.
Actor and UN Messenger of Peace Charlize Theron asked us to do more for young people as “they are the forgotten ones,” acknowledging the progress made in infant transmission rates but the continued and growing impact of HIV among young people, especially young women and girls.
Continuing in our mission to center the voices and experience of young people in the global AIDS response, Advocates for Youth once again participating in Durban YouthForce, the youth program at AIDS 2016. Durban YouthForce was be a critical platform to reflect on commitments made for young people since the 2000 IAC in Durban and the in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Durban YouthForce sought to promote Leadership and Innovation among young people, and Access for youth AIDS interventions. Over the two day pre-conference, youth delegates drafted the Durban Youth Call to Action, calling for Assess to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in formal and non-formal settings, the integration of human rights based principles throughout all laws, policies and programmes and for governments to recognize and emphasize the right of young people to meaningfully participate in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the 2030 Agenda.
Advocates was proud to partner with Pathfinder International, Planned Parenthood Federation and the Youth & Health Rights Coalition for “Policy Barriers to HIV/AIDS and SRHR Access for Youth: Perspectives and Solutions from Young Leaders.” The panel, which included Daniel Driffin, Co-founder at THRIVE S.S. Inc. and former Advocates YouthResource Alumni, addressed the myriad of policy barriers that still prevent young people living with, at risk for, and most affected by HIV/AIDS from their full sexual and reproductive health and rights. Panelist specifically highlighted policies that limit access to comprehensive sexuality education, place age-restrictions or require parental consent for services, and criminalize practices like same sex relationships and sex work.
Advocates, Pathfinder International, Planned Parenthood Federation and Women Deliver were also pleased to bring together a group of young people for a facilitate discussion and dialogue with Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA), who attended AIDS 2016 as part of the US Congressional Delegation. Young people had a robust discussion with Congresswomen Lee and shared their experience with in-country PEPFAR programs and expectations around the DREAMS Innovation Challenge.
As we reflect upon the conclusion of AIDS 2016, Advocates for Youth is pleased to worked in partnership with other civil society organizations to advocate for bold commitments, including ambitious treatment and prevention targets for adolescents and young people that will propel us forward to end AIDS. We continue to call on governments and policy makers to refocus efforts within vulnerable populations, including young people, sex workers and men who have sex with me.