by Niluka Perera
Reaching adolescents remains a paramount challenge in the HIV response, may they be perinatally infected with HIV or are from key populations. The number one killer of adolescents living with HIV in Africa is AIDS. More than 95% of all new HIV infections among young people in Asia and Pacific occur among adolescents of key populations. Young people claim to over one third of new HIV infections around the world that adds to over 2000 new HIV infections a day.
It is high time that we critically look at what works for adolescents which was the theme of a session organized by Adolescent Treatment Coalition at the Global village yesterday during AIDS 2016 titled “Engaging Adolescents in HIV Treatment and Care”. There is a dearth of data on adolescents, which affects targeted infections. Yet the story that is revealed by available data says that our approach to adolescents need to be drastically scaled up if we are to avert the epidemic among these populations in the next 15 years.
As adolescents and young people we are in need of more than an HIV test. Interventions that only target testing adolescents will not reach desired effects as socioeconomic implications of being an adolescent dominates the need or the urgency to be tested. Adolescents from key populations need to jump even harder hurdles because of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or other reasons. However what is vital to emphasize is that our interventions need to encompass a holistic approach to address socioeconomic implications of being an adolescent of which HIV services is one component. We need to address structural barriers including age of consent laws, teenage marriages and laws that criminalize key populations to create an enabling environment where adolescents and young people could reach full potential of their lives.
It is crucial that we focus on achieving the full potential of life as an adolescent with access to educations, access to developing life skills, access to decent jobs, access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive information and services. Above all we need to understand and recognize the dynamics and nuances of being a teenager or a young person including peer pressure, competition, education and career goals. We need to discuss about sex and accept and acknowledge the fact that as adolescents and young people we do have sex, we engage in sex work, and we inject or use drugs.
Above all we need to understand that services and interventions for adolescents and young people should go beyond the provision of mere HIV or STI tests. Interventions that build the capacity of adolescents to make informed decisions will enable an effective means of averting new HIV infections and AIDS related deaths among adolescents .