Thirty million African youths united to combat HIV/AIDS

Published: 16 September 2002 0:00 CET

Elizabeth Kahurani

Alarmingly high rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Africa are pushing governments throughout the continent to declare national disasters. A network of 30 million African youths, all members of an alliance of the world's seven biggest youth organizations are to join forces to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the continent.

The International Federation is forging partnerships with organizations in Ghana, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania to ensure that the HIV/AIDS pandemic does not develop to greater catastrophic levels. These partnerships are aimed at expanding peer education programmes delivered in local dialects through interactive teaching methods such as poetry, drama, art and music in order to reach out to youths in informal settings.

"Youth-to-youth HIV/AIDS prevention education is more effective in changing attitudes and behaviours among young people," observes Samuel Kweku, coordinator for youth programmes at the Ghana Red Cross. Thirty five thousand youths in 75 districts are involved in peer education programmes managed by the Ghana Red Cross. "The response is overwhelming. Youths who have been ignorant are gradually becoming more aware," continues Kwetu.

One million young people in Kenya alone are infected with HIV/AIDS. Joseph Gathogo, director of Community Development at the World Organization of the Scout Movement in Kenya, considers that the situation can be reversed by engaging youth networks, churches, people living with HIV/AIDS, health workers and other stakeholders to pass on accurate information about HIV/AIDS.

"We will participate in international and national holidays, sporting activities at all levels and even create a coordinating committee website," he notes. Collective voices of youths will also be used in advocating for affordable drugs, increasing access to them as well as fighting stigma and discrimination.

"For many, testing HIV positive spells an instant death sentence. They need to be treated with dignity and reassured that they can still lead a normal and productive life," points out Christopher Manda, national HIV-AIDS programme coordinator at the Zambia Red Cross.

Through these efforts the Alliance hopes to influence changes in harmful cultural practices, promotion of Voluntary Counselling Testing Centres (VCTs), and training of trainers to arm them with skills and methodologies.

The Alliance believes that activities such as training on information technology, tailoring, mechanics and secretarial courses will help to create economic opportunities for the vulnerable, addressing some of the root causes of the disease.

"Those who die from the disease do so at the prime age of 15 to 25 years. This leaves behind a high dependency ratio of orphaned children and the old," says Dorothy Odhiambo of the Federation's regional HIV/AIDS partnership. The movements` volunteers and young people will identify these vulnerable families and provide support.

"HIV-positive parents are usually nervous about how they should break the news and prepare their children. We want to extend the parent-child relationship by creating memory boxes, preparing wills and alleviating stress in young people through clubs and other activities," adds Lawrence Lutaaya Uganda Red Cross national youth coordinator.

The Youth Alliance has 120 Million members worldwide, it includes the World Alliance of YMCAs, the World YWCA, World Organization of the Scout Movement, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the International Award Association, the International Youth Foundation and the International Federation.

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