We Are Just As Important
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The International Aids Conference AIDS2014 has come and gone, but we have learnt from this conference is something we all should individually define in our own ways.
For many this conference was the one for the youth, and for others it was the one we finally have a clear roadmap to ending Aids.
But for young MSMs*, transgenders and adolescent MSMs it was the one where our issues weren't that important for discussion. During this conference there were several panels of discussion on the importance of having the issues of young key affected populations on the table, one which included a panel of discussion organized by UNICEF on ending the Epidemic in Adolescents and also the introduction of the action plan and response from UNAIDS and UNICEF.
At the 20 July session, called Ending the Epidemic in Adolescents, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé announced a joint UNAIDS/UNICEF initiative entitled All In. The initiative aims to ensure that adolescents infected and affected by HIV are not left behind. It is intended to become a global movement to close the prevention and treatment gap and will be concentrated in 25 countries that represent 90% of AIDS-related deaths and 85% of new infections among adolescents.
To ensure that the movement is built from the grassroots and shaped by the meaningful involvement of the focused group, Mr Sidibé asked adolescents and young people to engage and help shape the way forward for All In.
As a young gay man who was infected with HIV as an adolescent MSM in the streets of Benin city Nigeria, I understand the clear need of this joint plan, but the question remains are Adolescent MSM and YMSM and transgenders part of this great plan?
This is a question that is yet to be answered. It is important to note that In every world region, men who have sex with men (MSM) face significantly higher rates of HIV than the general population.Young people are also at increased risk for HIV comprising over 40% of new HIV infections worldwide.Young MSMs, transgender and adolescents MSM face heightened risk of both populations, as well as a number of vulnerabilities that are unique to the population.
Despite the clear need for interventions YMSM, adolescent MSM and young transgender are clearly left out of research, policy and programs for young people, adolescent and MSM/LGBT Programming. While data on HIV on this population are extremely limited existing studies show high risk of HIV among this population around the world.
Many YMSM are dependent on family that may not understand or accept their sexuality or some in my case are been evicted from their family home and left to carter for themselves in the street, putting them at greater risk of HIV infection.
Loss of stable housing has been associated with increased HIV risk behaviors, including exchange of sex for money, unprotected sex, and needle sharing, as well as lower health-related outcomes for people living with HIV. In schools YMSM, Transgenders are classified generally and provided with the general Health education which are not inclusive of sexual orientation education.
During the Aids Conference the Melbourne Youth Force released a youth action plan, and I must commend my colleagues at the Melbourne Youth Force for a wonderful job well done in creating such an important document. But as a YMSM I would say I don't see my issues been reflected in that document, That is a topic for another day.
I was part of the Youth Action Plan handover and during the panel discussion Mr. Dybul Executive director of The Global Fund, really sparked a debate with his comment, "[The Global Fund] must give [youth] the space to deliver, but you are the ones who actually have to deliver". He repeated that "youth must actually take the responsibility to solve the problems," and wrapped up by stating that "the only example of a youth movement that lasted more than an election cycle...was Darfur, that lasted 10 months before people got busy and went on to do other things."
Now I find few faulty statements in Dybul's words but I do agree that as the next generation in power, youth must take responsibility for the fight against HIV/AIDS, create the desire for change and push for legal rights and diminished discrimination for all. However, where his argument falters is in stating that organizations such as the Global Fund are only there to provide "a space to deliver". Actually, they should include youth, not just youth but key affected youth, help them access opportunities and information and support them in voicing their concerns and making governments respond to their needs.
I would further like to point out that this year's youth created a very thorough and specific plan for action (even though like I said earlier the document does not reflect the issues of Young MSM, Adolescent MSM and Young transgender) or what I would call "taking responsibility to deliver," to echo the language Mr. Dybul used in his challenge.
Today's youth can push and prod and protest all they want, but governments make laws and prioritize policy, just as health care providers have the final say in the distribution, pricing and availability of treatment. As I pointed out during the panel and would repeat here again, "we have the ideas, we have the incentive, but we are not given the opportunity for involvement."
Clearly YMSM, Adolescent MSM and Young transgender are now the new hard to reach population. the question remains how are we going to engage with this population if we must truly reach the new UNAIDS Action plan. The 90,90,90 plan. and the UNICEF/UNAIDS Joint action plan for ending the epidemic in adolescents.
The MSMGF produced a report in 2013 focused on young MSM in that report you can see clearly the need to involve this populations in general youth programs, research and have them be on the driving seat of issues that affect them.
We must be given the opportunity to be the one to design programs targeted at us, we must be given the opportunity to engage with policy makers, government officials in discussion of issues that affect youth and adolescent, because our issues are just as important. there must be an end in generalizing our issues to global LGBT programing. We must again be given the opportunity to engage and be given leadership roles.
We ourselves must take on roles to ensure our issues are been highlighted and must come together as group to ensure we have a global advocacy plan, gone are the days where we have others speak for us, we must more than ever ensure that we are not left behind in the fight to end Aids.
UNAIDS, UNICEF and other key UN agencies must provide the platform to engage directly with this population, because there will truly be no ending Aids if the key affected population are left behind.
*men who have sex with men