by obi obiorah
Published on: Jan 5, 2005
Type: Opinions

That HIV/AIDS is a condition of the youth is neither an overstatement nor a closely guarded secret.

AIDS was recognised as a global crisis by the mid 1980s. Over half of those infected with HIV are under 25 years of age - precisely between ages 15 and 24. As of december 2001, an estimated total of 11.8 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 were living with HIV and 8.6 million of this total were in Sub-Saharan Africa (1).

As the epidemic spreads, younger age groups are exposed to the risk of HIV as men choose increasingly younger sexual partners. The problem is further complicated even as solutions are proffered. Age at puberty is falling while age at marriage is rising; irrresponsible sex is glamourized in the mass media; youth are bombarded with raw sexuality in everything they should aspire for; youth recieve conflicting messages about sexuality and this leads to confusion.

These factors, amongst others, have helped increase vulnerability and affliction of youth. This spells doom for mankind if not curbed as youth between ages 10 and 19 make up about one fifth of the world population. The median age for the entire world is age 25 (i.e half of the world is under age 25). For developing countries, it is 23 while in developed ones it is 35. It is very low in some countries like Nigeria (17.5 years) and Zambia (15 years).

The time for action was yesterday. Most international agencies have agreed that for more significant impact, the youth must be involved and this is a good development. However, the involvement must be complete and total. Youths need programs that teach and address their needs, people they can trust, and people who can speak their language. Who is better placed to achieve this?

That is why the Global Youth Coalition against Aids (GYCA) is a right step in the right direction. GYCA should be given all the support and assistance. The need for urgency in intervention efforts cannot be over-emphasized. The issue of high turnover rates among youth and youthful staff should not check youths' total involvement. It has been said that "progams for youth work better when young people help plan and run them (2). The advantages outweigh the disadvantages."

Involvement gives young people a sense of ownership of the program and helps develop skills such as management, organization and decision- making" (3). Systematic engagement of youth is still an exception among HIV/AIDS programs. This has to change to a rule. The youths are saying: "It is our future that is at stake, allow us to take it in our hands."

However, if the older adults are still scared of totally involving the youth, nature will do it for them and give extra." As more and more adults die of AIDS, younger and younger adults would become responsible for managing government including such key services as civil security, the courts, education, and health care" (4). Already, in countries worst hit by AIDS, over one-quarter of the medical staff are themselves infected with HIV (5). In many households and communities, adolescents are taking up greater responsibilities as a result of AIDS. This will soon be the case in cities and even nations.

At that point, youth will have total control and not even the total involvement they were asking for. Let youth develop, plan and even execute programs with supervision from older adults or they may be forced to do it later after most older adults are gone, and in that case, they will be unprepared and untrained. Involve Youth! Support GYCA.

1. Joint United Nations Programmes on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2001.
2. SVENSON, G . European guildlines for youth AIDS peer education. Luxembourg, Germany, European commission, 1998. 54 p.
3. HORIZONS PROJECT. Peer education and HIV/AIDS : Past experience, future directions. Washington, D.C., Population council, may 2000. 53 p.
4. MANE, P. and MCCAULEY, A . Impact of STIs including AIDS on adolescents: A global perspective presented at WHO conference on Adolescent Reproductive Health, Mumbai, India, Nov 1-4, 2000. 24 p.

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