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UN officials, young AIDS activists agree on need for frank talk to battle epidemic

UN officials, young AIDS activists agree on need for frank talk to battle epidemic

Young AIDS activists and senior United Nations officials today joined their voices to appeal for greater involvement of young people in the fight against the pandemic and stressed that information was an important weapon in curbing the spread of the disease.

Speaking at a press briefing in New York held in conjunction with the General Assembly special session on children, Dr. Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said the epidemic was taking a devastating toll on the world's young. Each day, 2,000 babies were infected through their mothers, while 6,000 children were orphaned by the disease.

“The biggest scandal I would say, if not crime, is that we deny young people the information, the right to know, and the support that would make them grow up in a world that is much safer for themselves,” he said. Young people must be at the centre of the response to AIDS, “because that's what's going to make for stopping this epidemic.”

Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said the agency gave priority to the fight against AIDS because the disease was “virtually reversing the gains for children around the world, and falling terribly dramatically on young people.”

A youth AIDS activist from Kenya, Inviolata Mmbwavi, said it was essential to confront sensitive issues in battling the pandemic. “Young people face the most stigma because the society, the people in their communities expect them not to have sex, and HIV is very much related to sex,” she said, appealing to the international community to involve young people in preventing HIV/AIDS.

Another young AIDS activist, Anick Supplice from Haiti, described a “youth-for-youth” strategy, which involved using trained young people to communicate about the disease. With UNICEF's support, young people were involved in helping to “package information in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention in their own words in order to let us know how to pass these messages along.”

Supporting this view, Miodraga Stefanovska, a youth activist from The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, hailed the value of “making us spread our message directly, from me to some other kid, then the kid will spread to some other kid, and it's one of the most important sources we can use to win this battle.”