The 21st edition of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually transmitted infections in Africa (ICASA) for the first time started with the Youth Pre-Conference in Durban, South Africa early December giving the young people an opportunity to reclaim their space in the fight against HIV and AIDS, TB, among other emerging health challenges.
The Youth Pre-Conference is a forerunner to the main ICASA conference.
ICASA is a bi-annual conference that brings together various stakeholders at continental level to deliberate on how to conquer HIV and AIDS, among other Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) as well as TB and Malaria.
Running under the theme, “Accelerating Youth Leadership, Resilience and Innovation towards 2030” the Youth Pre-Conference sought to stimulate the young people’s participation in the fight to end HIV and AIDS by 2030.
The need for the youths involvement in the fight against HIV and AIDS is understood to be overdue as this is the most constituency affected by sexual and reproductive health related pandemics.
Speaking at the conference, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) East and Southern Africa Regional representative Sydney Hushie said young people form the core part of all sexual and reproductive health related interventions by UNFPA across the world.
“Young people are central to the UNFPA’s work across the world and in Africa we have four transformative goals that guide our work. These are providing family planning services, ending maternal deaths, ending violence against women and ending HIV and AIDS.
“In all of this young people form a critical part of it and as part of our vision we want to make sure that every pregnancy is wanted, every child birth is safe and young people achieve their full potential.
“We see innovation as a catalyst within UNFPA because it helps us drive towards achieving the goals that I have highlighted and we believe that young people are key in helping us achieve that,” Hushie said.
He added: “The power of innovation and the power of young people together is what we need to change the world in as far as ending HIV and AIDS is concerned.”
UNFPA is one of the leading partners of the ICASA whose contribution towards the sexual and reproductive health service delivery to the young people remains key.
Stakeholders who shared the podium also agreed that the fight to end HIV and AIDS is a shared responsibility and that the young people need to utilize the opportunities that are availed to them including voicing for a space in the ICASA board.
Young people who formed the largest number of delegates at the conference universally concurred that the controversy around the age of consent to marriage and sexual relationships cuts across the continent.
The delegates acknowledged that ending HIV and AIDS in Africa should start with the respect of young people’s sexual and reproductive health rights which include age of consent to sex and marriage.
The advent of Covid19 had its own toll on young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services manly due to health guidelines that included lock downs aimed at reducing the spread of the virus.
“Young people have shown, through these trying times that resilience is a key ingredient when it comes to addressing issues that are of paramount importance to different communities all over the world,” said Chido Mawire, a SAYWHAT trained peer educator.
“Covid19 remains a hindrance to young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services which are key in the preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS.”