AMSTERDAM — Reaching young people will be one of the keys to ending the global HIV epidemic, and current leaders should give them a voice, prominent HIV activists argued here.
In a discussion with Sentebale Let Youth Lead Advocates and teen HIV activist Mercy Ngulube of the Children’s HIV Association Youth Committee (CHIVA), His Royal Highness, The Duke of Sussex (better known as Prince Harry) discussed the importance of normalizing the conversation about HIV and letting the youth of the world take a leading role.
The discussion took place via Facebook Live, as part of the International AIDS Conference (IAC).
The Duke of Sussex was appearing in his capacity as Patron of Sentebale. He previously attended the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, and will be making an appearance in the Global Village at the conference on Tuesday.
“The majority of the world is made up of people under the age of 30 — we have to put the power in the hands of the younger generation, because that’s where the solutions are going to come from, that’s where the passion and engagement is coming from,” the Duke said.
Ngulube helped moderate the discussion, and discussed a “relay race of change” in combatting HIV, where the only way to create “sustainable change” is for younger generations and older generations to collaborate.
“We need to be able to be on these big teams where we are needed and our advice is needed, and we’d be able to help world leaders and partner with them to tackle this issue,” she said.
The Duke described the importance of listening to young voices, who can speak directly to where the problem is occurring in different countries and continents, and the “policy change” involved in getting young people more actively involved in the conversation.
“You guys are the people I would want on my team to be able to explain to me what the root cause of the problem is on the ground,” he said. “The younger generation has the solution, and the capability to solve these problems in a much shorter period.”
Ngulube also addressed the issue of overcoming stigma, describing how she had to live her life knowing that other people would not accept that she had HIV.
“It’s just a virus that affects my immune system, but it does not affect who I am or what I do,” she said.
In a separate Facebook Live discussion, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) addressed the issue of stigma, and reaching marginalized populations. He discussed how 52% of all new infections in the U.S. occur in young men who have sex with men (MSM) in the south and southeast, and the challenge of accessing difficult to reach populations to get them into care.
“Young men who think they are healthy are not likely to get into the healthcare system, and because of the stigma associated with it, it’s very difficult to reach those individuals,” Fauci said, adding how new research such as the development of a vaccine could make the stigma associated with HIV a “less compelling” issue in the future.
The Duke talked about the progress that has been made in combatting the HIV epidemic in the last 30 years, but warned against “another generation of complacency, where people think it’s done and it’s not.”
“I always like to use my platform to give a platform to [young people], to be able to empower [them] because I don’t necessarily have the solutions. At the end of the day, this is about solutions — rather than sitting behind your desk trying to put out one model [to combat HIV] that fits everybody, I think more leaders should be using the younger generation,” he said.
“You guys are going to take over and solve it — no pressure,” the Duke said to the assembled activists. “I’m 33 years old and I already feel out of touch.”