Students And Youth Working on reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT) joins the rest of the globe in commemorating the World AIDS Day celebrated on the 1st of December each year.

This year’s theme: “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV” is a call for an end to all forms of inequalities that hinder access to most basic services like prevention, testing, treatment and care. We contend that health services should reach and meet the needs of all people especially young people with disabilities, students and the youth who are at risk of HIV infection.

Everyone has a right to access health services in time on an equal basis. We contend that Tuberculosis is a serious health threat, especially for people living with HIV. People living with HIV are more vulnerable to become sick with TB. The World Health Organisation has it that, globally, TB is one of the leading causes of death among people living with HIV. Currently, tuberculosis death rate for Zimbabwe is at 14 cases per 100,000 people and this also include young people and adolescents. Health experts have warned that delayed detection and absence of TB treatment can potentially shorten a life span. 

We have also observed that both HIV and TB patients often suffer stigmatisation and discrimination which stall equalisation and progress towards ending the two epidemics. We reiterate that TB and HIV patients need to be treated impartially and also given equal opportunities in all facets of life in line with this year’s theme.

Regardless of age, creed, color, race or skin, everyone should access health services without any form of barriers. The reasoning that adolescents who are below the age of consent to sex cannot access health services without parental consent has proven to be detrimental to the lives of the young people particularly in the year 2022.

We have had cases where adolescents and young people under the age of 18 impregnating each other. This is a huge red flag that must persuade and compel authorities to open up health spaces and remove restrictions particularly on the access to reproductive health services for the sake of serving to save young people’s lives. Opening health serving spaces should also work hand in glove with massive, deliberate and robust comprehensive sexuality education awareness programmes countrywide.

We take today’s opportunity to call for easy access to both TB and HIV screening services in communities, tertiary institutions and for treatment to be available to young people and the youth in Zimbabwe and at regional level.

As indicated earlier, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) beginning at primary level will drastically contribute towards ending HIV and TB. Health education is very key for the TB and HIV vulnerable constituencies. Initially, TB was perceived as an older people’s disease but in recent years compelling evidence has been presented showing that young people are equally prone to TB infection.

Globally, HIV remains a major public health issue that affects millions of people and in recent years progress in the fight against the epidemic stalled due to other emerging health crises like COVID-19 and Ebola. These had a net effect on resource mobilisation, shortage of health care workers as some died at the height of the pandemic, and shrinking of drug supplies due to COVID-19 induced travel restrictions and finances. The world need to come together in a post COVID-19 era and revive the seemingly dying collective efforts to fight both TB and HIV epidemics. Following the 2023 national budget presentation by the Finance Minister recently, we expect improved health service delivery in the year ahead. We expect young people across Zimbabwe and beyond to access HIV preventive tools such as condoms, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) (a medicine taken to prevent HIV), among other preventive tools.

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