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World AIDS Day: Rallying around the young

The Asia-Pacific region has made undeniable advances over the past decade in the fight against HIV/AIDS – new infections, for example, dropped by 26% between 2001 and 2012, according to UNAIDS figures. However, as several delegates emphasized at this year’s 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), in this battle, complacency kills.

This year on World AIDS Day, the focus of many health and health promotion organizations has shifted to youth.

As UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova notes in her 2013 World AIDS Day address, “this group still requires effective HIV and sexuality education programmes, access to high-quality and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health [SRH] services, and the elimination of sexual violence against young women and girls,” Ms Bokova writes.

In the Asia-Pacific, UNESCO Bangkok’s HIV Prevention and Health Promotion Unit (HP2) has been taking a front-line role in this campaign.

Of the 350,000 people estimated to be newly infected with HIV in Asia-Pacific in 2012, over 6% are under 14 years of age, while adolescents between 10-19 years old account for 17%, according to recent figures from UNICEF.

Two groundbreaking studies launched at this year’s ICAAP demonstrate UNESCO’s commitment to identifying and addressing the needs of this often neglected group.

How laws and policies impact young people’s access to HIV and SRH services was the focus of a study released by UNESCO, UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNDP and Youth Lead at ICAAP.

The report, “Young people and the Law in Asia and the Pacific: A review of laws and policies affecting young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health and HIV services” was the first systematic review of its kind, with over 400 key legal and policy documents from across the region analyzed.

Focus group discussions with young people added a human dimension to the report, with respondents sharing their experiences regarding the often devastating effects restrictive policies and laws have.

Among the report’s recommendations, were legal reforms, changes in the way laws are enforced and an overall call to bring young people to the table when it comes to policy making related to SRH and HIV services.

UNESCO Bangkok also supported “Lost in Transitions: Current issues faced by adolescents living with HIV in Asia Pacific”, co-authored by UNICEF and the Asia Pacific Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS) (APN+). The groundbreaking study is the first to ever focus specifically on adolescence and HIV in Asia-Pacific.

“Adolescence is a difficult time for all young people, when they have to negotiate the change from childhood to adulthood, and this can affect their adherence to medication and access to treatment,” said Shiba Phurailatpam, APN+ Director.

At the ICAAP event marking the launch of the report, Mr Phurailatpam called on those in attendance to use the information in the report as the basis for pro-active action to help youngsters transition between different phases of life.

For many youngsters, having lost both parents to HIV, the immediate future appears grim.

“We cannot just sit quietly and watch all of these horrible things going on,” he said. “[Adolescent] issues need to be dealt with properly and peer support is one of the things we have to take in very carefully as well.”



The Director-General’s World AIDS Day message:

A video on “Young people and the Law in Asia and the Pacific: A review of laws and policies affecting young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health and HIV services”

The full report:

Lost in Transitions