We as the youth have been brought up in a generation that has never known or can even imagine a world without HIV/AIDS, and we are the generation that bears the greatest burden of the disease. For the last two decades HIV/AIDs has been the top killer virus in Kenya, and even though the prevalence rate has seen a reduction in the recent past, an aggressive campaign is needed to turn the HIV/AIDs statistics around, especially among the youth. Unlike the early 90’s when the awareness of HIV/AIDS was low, today every young person is aware of its existence, how it’s acquired, risks, and prevention. Information on HIV/AIDS is taught from primary school to the university level. However, not everyone takes this information seriously.
Many campaigns have been put into place, such as providing free condoms to young people and free syringes to drug users to avoid transmission through needles. This promotes a wrong understanding of young people and the human person as a whole. Instead of finding the root cause and solutions, the campaigns are finding a ‘quick fix’ that in the end will only lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The campaigns need to see the human person not as a potential carrier of the virus and danger to society but as an individual who has the ability to make right decisions given the right education and information.
Governments should commit themselves to addressing the rising rates of HIV infection among young people in order to ensure that future generations may be free of HIV infection by continuing research and education efforts. With proper knowledge, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS would drastically reduce and stigmatization would come to an end. The first thing the government should focus on is raising awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment to the youth. They should ensure that the program for this is implemented in all counties and regions, and that each young person is able to access the same facilities and information as others. There must be proper communication specific to the region and proper education given to young people about abstinence, use of protection, and ways to care for oneself with or without the diseases. Governments should also ensure there are adequate voluntary and confidential counseling and testing centers in different regions.
Secondly, governments should put special focus on gender and the vulnerability of young girls to HIV/AIDS. Young girls face more challenges when it comes to preventing this disease, considering they are more likely to the victims of rape and sexual exploitation. There should be more centers where women and girls can be taught how to protect themselves from this disease and how to keep themselves safe from danger. In addition, trafficking of women and girls for prostitution and sexual slavery increases the vulnerability of young women to HIV/AIDS infection. This must be one area of need the government takes note of.
Lastly, it’s important for the government to protect each young person. By putting laws in place that protect the rights of each young person, the government will ensure the safe guard of each one’s dignity. In addition, there must be major penalties for those who would want to endanger any young person’s life, especially for traffickers and those seeking to engage young people in prostitution. An AIDS free generation is what we hope to raise in future!
By: Winnie Aywa, WYA Africa member and intern