Every year on the 11th of October, the world commemorates the International Day of the Girl Child which focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. This year marks the 12th edition since it was first celebrated in 2012, with the theme, “My Voice, Our Equal Future”. The PACT joins global communities in amplifying the voices of girls all over, to create an equal world and sustainable future for them.
Considering how HIV disproportionately affects adolescent girls globally due to vulnerabilities created by gender norms and taboos about sexuality, there is a need for countries to ensure the health and wellbeing of the girl child. These factors have a huge impact on the ability of adolescent girls to protect their health and prevent HIV, seek health services, and make their own informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and lives.
Globally, in 2019, adolescent girls accounted for all new HIV infections among adolescents, with East and Southern Africa regions standing at 83% and 78% in the West and Central African regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, one out of every five new infections happens among adolescents girls and young women (AGYW) despite just being 10% of the population. In the worst-affected countries, 80% of new HIV infections among adolescents are among girls, who are up to eight times more likely to be living with HIV than adolescent boys. The convergence of multiple sexual and reproductive health issues makes reaching adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) with HIV prevention particularly critical. Gender discrimination and gender-based violence stimulate the HIV epidemic even as many girls are still facing sexual violence. The low status of girls in the society and within the family, along with the tendency of men and boys to wield power, especially over their sexuality, are key factors in the high rates of violence against adolescent girls.
Adolescent girls are major targets of gender-based violence, which includes incest, sexual abuse, female genital, intimate partner violence, marital rape, early and forced marriage, mutilation, sexual exploitation and trafficking. Violence or the fear of violence can stop women and girls from negotiating safer sex, accessing HIV and sexual and reproductive health services and disclosing their HIV status to partners, family members and health providers. The COVID-19 pandemic also saw a rise in sexual and gender-based violence among adolescent girls and young women across various countries. This was exacerbated by the imposed lockdowns in many countries, as a measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus
Schools can be critical avenues for reaching adolescents girls with relevant information needed to avoid HIV, however, research shows that 132 million girls are out of school globally. There is a direct correlation between girls’ education and HIV risk, as study shows that uneducated girls are twice as likely to acquire HIV as those who have attended school. Unfortunately, many adolescent girls in school do not receive adequate education on HIV, sex and sexuality. Research has shown that comprehensive sexuality education helps decrease number of adolescents engaging in sex at a very young age, as well as unintended adolescents pregnancies. As Deborah Mamman from Nigeria said, “an empowered girl child is a productive child, a health-seeking child, and therefore a girl who can be entrusted with the survival and wellbeing of herself and the society", girls deserve the right to accurate and comprehensive information about their health and rights to enable them make informed decisions.
As a consortium of organizations working with adolescents and young people in the global AIDS response and employing meaningful youth participation as a key strategy, The PACT is calling on all governments to ensure equal access to comprehensive healthcare for adolescents girls, reducing age related barriers hindering access to services. Adolescent girls and young women should also be given equal opportunities and slots at decision-making spaces to ensure their voices are heard, and their issues are addressed adequately. Efforts should be made towards ending all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) and ensure adolescents girls enjoy the highest form of human rights, as agreed in various international treaties and conventions.
 "Adolescent HIV prevention - UNICEF DATA." https://data.unicef.org/topic/hivaids/adolescents-young-people/. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.
 "Women and girls, HIV and AIDS | Avert - Avert.org." 23 Apr. 2020, https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/key-affected-populations/women. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.
 "Women and HIV — A spotlight on adolescent girls ... - unaids." 8 Mar. 2019, https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/documents/2019/women-and-hiv. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.
 "Girls' education | UNICEF." https://www.unicef.org/education/girls-education. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.
 "Women and girls, HIV and AIDS | Avert - Avert.org." 23 Apr. 2020, https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/key-affected-populations/women. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.
World Mental Health Day and Young Key Populations
This October 10th, communities globally will be commemorating the World Mental Health Day. The PACT stands in solidarity with young people, civil society, the private sector, governments, the United Nations, across different platforms to call for increased awareness on mental health, proactive contributions for the fulfillment of the mental health needs of marginalized populations, and a strengthened commitment by key stakeholders to invest on mental health programming.
The World Health Organization, United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health has launched a campaign leading up to World Mental Health Day with the theme “Move for mental health: let’s invest”. The campaign aims to provide opportunities for various communities, organizations, and agencies to develop programmes that cater to the wellbeing and mental health needs of their constituents.
For young people, the relevant key messages of this campaign include:
As a consortium of organizations working with young key populations and advocacies for sexual and reproductive health and rights, the PACT is also committed to ensure that mental health is seen as an integral part of our work and advocacy.
The link between HIV and Mental Health is apparent. Data has shown that people living with HIV have a higher risk of mental health conditions. People living with HIV should also take care of both their physical and mental health. People living with HIV face intersectional stigma and discrimination as they are often also discriminated for their age, sexuality, gender, race, social class, among other things. This exclusion from society results in feelings of anxiety and stress that may affect the lives of young key populations.
One group that often faces these discriminatory acts are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) individuals. These discriminatory acts lead to negative experiences that hamper or prevent their access to peer support groups, mental health professions, and sexual health services. Oftentimes, some spaces are not accommodating or affirming of LGBTQI experiences and increase feelings of anxiety and stress for these groups. These can further lead to utter neglect of nutrition and physical fitness, dropping out of education or unsatisfactory academic performance, and affecting their social relationships with peers.
LGBTQI youth, Mental Health, and COVID-19
In June 2020, Youth Voices Count, a regional network for young LGBTQI persons in Asia-Pacific, launched the “#CopingWithCOVID: The Well-Being of LGBTIQ Adolescents and Youth during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Asia and the Pacific”. This report hopes to spotlight the issues and challenges faced by LGBTQI adolescents and youth in Asia-Pacific which were exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The study utilized a framework wherein the individual well being of LGBTQI was viewed under four interrelated dimensions. The four areas of well-being covered in the report are (a) mental health, (b) sexual health, (c) civil and political life, and (d) social and economic status.
Zooming in on the mental health dimension the following were the key points:
In the survey conducted prior to the study, more than 70% of the respondents experience higher vulnerability towards family members, such as concerns about being disclosed to other members of household, stigma and discrimination, and hostility or disagreement with family due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Additionally, the various levels of state-sanctioned quarantine measures and community lockdowns has limited the mobility of LGBTIQ clients to access mental health services, medication, and other forms of counseling, guidance, and support. Lastly, many young people have relied on social media for information on both COVID-19 and mental health.
This is equally important in the conversation of sexual health and HIV/AIDS as COVID-19 also affected the access to sexual health services, including access to ARV and other medication, counseling and testing, and other services. Coupled with the stigma and discrimination faced by young key populations, like men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender persons, sex workers, and people who use drugs, the inaccessbility to services could be detrimental to the wellbeing of these populations.
This World Mental Health Day, we should therefore acknowledge that various key population communities have unique mental health needs. It is also the role of civil society to provide sensitized and supportive mental health care and support for key populations. Additional effort should also be dedicated to understanding the issues and challenges faced by communities on their wellbeing and mental health that could prevent or slow down our global HIV targets from being met.
Good to have you talk to us, and welcome to The PACT interview series: can you tell us about yourself, maybe the ones we do not know yet.
Hey, it’s wonderful to talk with the PACT team! I like to introduce myself as an upcoming YKP leader and human rights activist in Sri Lanka and I am also the former YKP focal point of the Key Affected Population Committee, affiliated to the Sri Lanka CCM and Focal point of Youth Lead in Sri Lanka. I am currently working as a Project officer of an RPK and working on achieving equality in rural areas and promote Human Rights.
I raise my voice against GBV and SGB of women and marginalized communities. I am also engaged in several advocacy initiatives including strengthening community engagement at the CCM, Gender Subcommittee of Sri Lankan parliament, and decision-making platforms related to the HIV response of the country and giving CSE for adolescents, initiatives related to the ICPD program of action in Sri Lanka with UNFPA, advocacy on PrEP roll-out in Sri Lanka, and LGBT rights advocacy with young people. I am also engaged in advocacy using visual media. I have developed several videos on LGBT Rights, IDAHOT, HIV, and other SRHR issues.
As a journalist and media personality, I use my social media platforms, especially Facebook pages dedicated to issues of HIV, young people, and SRHR. I am also the mobilizer of the "Youth For Tomorrow" group in Sri Lanka which is a mobilization platform for young activists.
Why are you passionate about HIV, SRHR? How did the passion spring up?
In Sri Lanka, HIV and SRHR issues are taboos. No one talks about those things openly! Therefore, young people face a lot of difficulties including myself. Then I decided to come out and make platforms to talk and share knowledge, experience, and ideas. Especially as a journalist, I face a lot of challenges and I became a topic when sharing my open ideas about HIV and SRHR issues. But I got those challenges and bullying as milestones of my activist journey.
Therefore I work to get those challenges.
Why did you join The PACT?
By being part of The PACT, I want to further build my capacity as a young KP leader. I want to gain knowledge especially on policy level engagement related to SRHR issues of young people and YKP and strategies to effective advocacy with policymakers and decision-makers. I also want to gain knowledge and expertise on mobilizing young people and sustaining a successful mobilization initiative to ensure that young people from key populations continue to engage meaningfully throughout. Another way I believe The PACT will help me share knowledge among young people everywhere in this world and develop skills and change attitude to raise voice for human rights and against stigma, discrimination.
What motivates you to keep pushing and working for the benefit of young people?
I always like to see empowered people, therefore I changeG my career and came to rural areas in Sri Lanka also. I believe we must help people who live in the beyond of benefit line. Some people get every benefit and they live without any suffering. But what about others?
This power line is so wrong and unfair. Therefore we need to fight and change this system.
As an example, we can see high-class LGBT people enjoy them their rights! but it's hard to get rights to those who live in poverty. That's same for every community.
Therefore my team and I are trying to stand up for marginalized youth and it's my motive.
What are your hopes for the future of the youth HIV movement?
We need to alliance with government and civil society for our goal. Sometimes this movement is backward, because disparity between government and civil organizations.
Civil organizations know real situation of the community and government have resources. If we take one platform to both parties, that will be more effective.
And I believe we need to give more opportunities for youth to decision making, then we can get more engagement from them.
What would be your message to young people all over the world working to end AIDS by 2030?
We are waiting for you! Here, we have lots of space for leaders! If you can lead this movement and take more responsibilities, we can end AIDS by 2030.
And don't make stigma and discrimination! If you see any stigma or discrimination, please fight, please ask help..
Please click on the download link below to read the press statement:
To ensure young people are better organized, engaged and equipped to effectively and
efficiently engage in the AIDS response, The PACT – the global coalition of youth-led and
youth-serving organizations and networking in the AIDS response- is launching podcast
to help document the experiences of youth leaders, generate new knowledge and share
the experiences of young people in the AIDS response particularly young key
The PACT Podcast is a virtual storytelling and documentation platform for
young people working in the AIDS response and their supporters including experts to
share their perspectives, opinions and experiences of working in the AIDS response
through interviews, storytelling, readings etc.
The podcast majorly aims to document the experiences, opinions and aspirations of young people in the AIDS response while looking at these objectives:
The links to each podcast shall be shared across platforms for easy access.
The PACT is excited to be welcoming the new Co-leads and Leads of particular working groups of The PACT.
Here is a list of the new appointments:
Who are you?
Since 2013, Chimee Adioha has been working in the areas of gender, arts, and literature in Nigeria. His major strategies for social justice and equality have focused majorly on tools like photography, film and literature. His work has also revolved around media and communications, creative writing and social work. He has served as a member of the inclusion & engagement committee of the Commonwealth Youth Council. In 2016, he founded an alliance of boys who are rewriting and strategizing against toxic masculinity in Nigeria. He also curates a youth led literary magazine in Nigeria called BLACK BOY REVIEW. He lives and works in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos.
Why are you passionate about HIV, SRHR and Social justice?
My passion for SRHR and social justice has begun since I was a child. I didn’t know the right language and terminologies but I felt I was sad that many things that involve humanity were not right and I felt something needed to be done. I think I started putting action since 2013, just when I was going to university. There was this need to engage with young people, talk about sexual rights, write about these topics and get them published. Sharing same space with a lot of queer people in my country also created the possibility of understanding the concept and motive for sexual and reproductive health rights.
I joined a human rights policy and research organization in 2017, working with under-served young people and women. That space opened my eyes to situations of injustice in severe need of justice. My work every day centers around these people and there is this automatic urge to to push more and act more, regardless of the shrinking space that Nigeria offers its activists.
Why did you join The PACT as a Communications Lead?
I have joined The PACT after reading through and realizing I could be a part of a youth led team working day and night to end AIDS by 2030. It was like one of those spaces that I have listed in my “to do”. I was also grateful for the opportunity to communicate and share the work of The PACT- as I believe the work is not complete without adequate communication. How do programs happen? How did a meeting go? These are crucial and critical incidents that promote a particular work.
It’s my pleasure to be a part of this process for The PACT.
What are your hopes for the future of the youth HIV movement?
The future of the youth HIV movement is nothing close to slim. The future looks so realistic, even more realistic than presently. A lot of young people are becoming a force that can’t stop. A lot of young people are getting involved. That will double or triple in the future. There is no such thing as when a whole community gathers to solve a problem. The work gets done hundred times faster.
Tell us a little bit about you and the work you do in the AIDS response both in Kenya and around the world?
I am Mayah’s mama, she’s my 4 year old daughter and I draw so much inspiration from being her mother. I intentionally live a life that will make her proud. She is the North in my compass. I am in school for I want her to see me going for my dreams so she knows she can get to the things she want to achieve.
I am the team leader and founding member of Positive Young Women Voices, a community based organization in Nairobi working to advance the gender equity and equality agenda while empowering young women and adolescent girls to live their full potential. I sit at the Kenya Coordinating Mechanism to the Global Fund representing communities and at the NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board. Ensuring that our voices are heard is the aim of my advocacy in these platforms.
How is COVID19 affecting youth leadership in the HIV response?
COVID-19 effects are being felt by all in the world. With most people losing their livelihoods and lives, these are hard times. The limited spaces and resources do not make the situation any easier as more of the existing resources are channeled to measures that tackle this epidemic. Young people are still not adequately represented in the decision making platforms and the possibility that our needs are being treated as homogeneous cannot be denied. I think young leaders are having it harder as the digital divide is limiting the opportunities to engage and to influence the work that is taking place. There is no guarantee if you were being funded, there will be renewal of the funding opportunities and if you were not, like us, the possibilities are slim and that is scary to the work that we do and if the gains made will be maintained.
Why does youth leadership in the HIV response still matter?
We understand our issues and needs better and our approach and ideas cannot be watered down. Our perspective is important in ensuring the programmes take into consideration our priorities. The burden of HIV is felt more by young people and especially adolescent girls and young women. If we are not shaping the response, it is bound to fail. We have made some strides in involvement of young people but still, we are a long way from doing right by this group.
What message do you have for young people attending AIDS2020?
I know it is not easy, you will probably have a hard time attending all the sessions as the time zones collide and access to internet might lock some of us out but do all that you can to ensure that your important voice is heard and your priorities included. Let us not get tired or give up. Hope to see you all.
My name is Sargis Ghazaryan and I am the Resource Mobilisation and Partnership working group lead for The PACT and I will be heading to the AIDS2020. Join me on the ROAD to AIDS2020.
This will be the first time I will be involved in a major AIDS conference hosted by IAS. I am eager to take part in AIDS2020 because I believe the conference is a great platform that brings together many young activists from across the globe working not only on just HIV but also SRHR. I think the conference allows different groups of people from different backgrounds and experiences to come together and help frame new ways of thinking to advance the HIV response. There are several components of AIDS2020 which I am very interested in such as comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), women’s empowerment and mental health. I hope to contribute to AIDS2020 with my experiences in SRHR and young people at the country, regional and global level.
I think there are many ways The PACT can contribute to AIDS2020, considering that now I am the Resource Mobilisation and Partnership working group lead, I will use the platform to bring visibility to The PACT agenda and collaboration. The PACT has a lot to contribute in terms of showcasing best practices and innovative solutions but more importantly how young people are key players in the HIV response. Establishing key partnerships is a priority of mine for The PACT and my involvement in the conference will provide a chance for me to network and bring visibility to our cause.
I believe all young people at the conference should really maximise the opportunity to gain new and valuable insight and absorb as much information as possible to take back home. I think the conference will help foster creativity and bring about new solutions for meaningful youth engagement. I am also the international coordinator of Y-PEER, and Y-PEER have also secured sessions and a booth at the conference which will explore issues related to young people and SRHR. I hope many people will take the opportunity to stop by and have a chat.
The COVID-19 pandemic has surely been a key focus of 2020 and I can only assume this will also be recurring theme and discussion through-out the conference. We as young people have faced many specific challenges because of the pandemic, and I hope the conferences provides an opportunity for us to share those experiences and to find practical solutions to address the needs of the community. I also would like to take back as much knowledge on COVID-19, in terms of best practices, and apply that to the work Y-PEER and The PACT does with young people. In a time like this it’s important for us all to unite and fight against COVID-19, but more importantly make sure young people are not left behind.
I look forward to joining you all on the ROAD to AIDS2020.
Sargis Ghazaryan - email@example.com
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has become a global health emergency, and we can already see the impact this has had on the HIV response. COVID-19 was first reported in Kenya on the 12th March 2020 and posed significant challenges for people living with HIV (PLHIV). The Kenyan government instituted several measures to contain the spread, including but not limited to, a nationwide curfew between 19:00 to 05.00, cessation of movement in and out of the most affected areas, in particular, Nairobi, which has seen more and more confirmed COVID-19 cases.
According to Kenya’s National Aids Control Council, 1.6 million people are living with HIV as of 2018. Kenya has an average HIV prevalence rate of 6% and is considered one of the six HIV 'high burden' countries in Africa. The western part of the country through Homabay, Siaya and Kisumu are the most affected with HIV with rates of 25.7%, 23.7% and 19.3% respectively. These statistics highlight the challenges a global pandemic, such as the coronavirus will have on vulnerable communities, including those who are living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The pandemic has since brought challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDs where evident disruption in services and access to information and commodities (food, water and health supplies) have been reported. This particular issue of misinformation perpetuates the negative stereotypes associated with understandings of viruses, specifically HIV/AIDS, but also results in higher instances for stigma and discrimination.
Since the world had shifted its focus onto COVID-19 and information concerning the pandemic, many news channels have limited the sharing of information about HIV/AIDs prevention, testing, and treatment. While at the moment there has been no significant research on transmission rates, especially with the coronavirus and people living with HIV, there has however been a rise of misinformation being spread suggesting PLHIV have higher chances of contracting the coronavirus.
There is a growing concern among PLHIV, with questions on access to essential medicine such as ARVs in a global crisis. With factories at a halt, reports have suggested shortage of supply for male and female condoms, HIV testing kits such as HIV rapid diagnostic kits, lubricants, and other essential medical supplies. With these concerns, organisations such as Maisha Youth began recruiting community volunteers to assist in the distribution of condoms and are working to support HIV and SRHR causes in the time of COVID-19. Likewise, many community based organisations have stepped up to provide information, as well as provide health related services where needed.
Recently the Ministry of Health Kenya indicated a significant drop in the number of people seeking medication at health facilities. Just like for any other health needs, this may suggest that PLHIV may be avoiding health facilities and clinics in fear of how the country has responded to COVID-19. Adherence to ARV's remains of critical importance for PLHIV, especially in these times, therefore, the importance of protecting people living with HIV should be of central concern alike.
We've made great strides, and today, HIV infection is no longer life-threatening thanks to advancements made in medicine, science and technology. That said, HIV should always remain a public health concern. Therefore it's essential that governments mainstream HIV prevention, testing, care and treatment amid the COVID19 response by also providing accurate and reliable information for PLHIV and those affected by HIV.
Written By: Fatinato Natse Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org