TREAT Asia’s New Program to Help Build Regional Youth HIV Advocacy Capacity
According to the World Health Organization, adolescents are the only group of people living with HIV with a rising mortality rate—and HIV is now the second leading cause of death among individuals ages 10–19 worldwide. In the Asia-Pacific, only 25% of the estimated 230,000 children under 15 living with HIV had access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2012. Globally, the youth HIV advocacy movement working to confront this crisis is growing; however, very few adolescents in the Asia-Pacific are currently involved. This year, with the support of ViiV Healthcare’s new Positive Action for Adolescents Programme, TREAT Asia launched a program called Youth ACATA (Asia Community for AIDS Treatment and Advocacy) in an effort to mobilize HIV-positive youth across the region.
“The participation of young people in Asia in the HIV movement has been very low, and when it comes to perinatally infected youth it has been almost nil,” says Giten Khwairakpam, TREAT Asia community and policy project manager. “Youth ACATA aims to build the capacity and understanding of young people living with HIV around HIV issues, and provide them with opportunities to help them become leaders in the community.”
There are many reasons for the low rates of participation in advocacy seen among Asian adolescents, including lack of access to HIV-related information and to supportive environments that encourage them to speak up about their status and fight for their rights and health-related needs. The program seeks to overcome these issues by educating participants about HIV, ART, and advocacy and by linking them to other HIV-positive youth in the region, so that they can eventually become leaders in their communities.
The program lasts 12 months, and the inaugural 2015 class includes eight young people living with HIV between the ages of 18 and 24 from Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The first workshop, held in Bangkok in April, featured sessions conducted by leading HIV advocates from UNESCO, Youth LEAD, and the Asia-Pacific Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (APN+).
“For most of the participants, it was their first time attending such a meeting, their first time on an airplane, their first time meeting peers from another country, and their first time learning about HIV treatment, advocacy, and human rights,” says Jennifer Ho, a TREAT Asia consultant, who facilitated the workshop. “They were all very excited, and we hope this will inspire them and other young people they work with to become advocates.”
Youth ACATA plans to hold a total of three workshops this year, with the next one scheduled for September. In addition, the participants agreed to keep in touch via email and Facebook, so they can continue to network and discuss the issues they face and ways to organize their advocacy work. TREAT Asia plans to establish a web-based platform to host these ongoing conversations in the near future. The participants also receive support to attend English language courses, enabling them to participate more effectively in international meetings and to communicate with advocates from other countries.
“After attending the workshop, I felt more motivated to develop a support group for young people, especially those living with HIV, in Jakarta,” says Sepi Maulana Ardiansyah, age 23. “In Indonesia, HIV programs for young people usually only focus on HIV prevention, and I will use this opportunity to improve my knowledge and share the information with all my friends, so I can contribute to my community.”