AIDS 2006: Young people are key to world’s response

18 August , 2006  |
By Dan Thomas
NEW YORK, USA, 18 August 2006 – Young people must be included in the world’s response to HIV and AIDS, delegates to the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada were told as they wrapped up their biennial meeting.
“We are young, we are affected greatly and we can make a difference,” UNICEF youth reporter Kerrel McKay, a member of the Portland AIDS Committee in Jamaica, told the meeting. “We want to play our part with your help,” she added.
Ms. McKay, 20, whose father died of AIDS, helped UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M Veneman launch the UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign at the United Nations in October 2005. In June, she was a keynote speaker at the International Conference on Childhood and AIDS in Paris.
Empowering girls and women
A team of UNICEF HIV/AIDS experts, led by Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, joined more than 24,000 other delegates, including 1,000 youth delegates, at the conference in Toronto this week to share information and ensure that children and young people are part of the global AIDS agenda.
“I think we achieved our goal in reminding people that children really are the missing face of AIDS,” Ms. Salah said today. “It was also good to see our partners and other organizations talking about girls’ education and girls’ empowerment in the context of HIV/AIDS.”
In his closing keynote address, UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa and former UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Stephen Lewis also focused in the role of girls and women.
"I challenge you, my fellow delegates, to enter the fray of gender inequality,” he said. “There is no more honourable and productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change, and that includes subduing the pandemic."
Ambassadors from India and China
On Thursday, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors from India and China – two of the countries most at risk from the threat of HIV and AIDS – called on the world to do more for children.
Sharmila Tagore, one of India’s most popular film stars, has been advocating on behalf of children affected by HIV/AIDS and playing a crucial role in helping promote greater openness and awareness about the disease in India and beyond. In a country that has an estimated 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS figures, India’s young population is particularly vulnerable.
"I have children of my own and I naturally empathize with children and what affects them," Ms. Tagore said in an interview. "I really think we need to do something for the children affected by HIV/AIDS. I've worked in the field, in Uganda and India, and I've seen what's happened to children because of HIV."
Attention to children’s needs
Peng Liyuan, one of China’s most popular folk singers, talked about her role in a new TV campaign on children orphaned by AIDS.
She showed a group of conference delegates and reporters the video clips, which were produced by China AIDS Media Project in cooperation with China's Ministry of Health and UNICEF. The videos, which will be shown in Beijing's buses, trains and other public spaces, are part of the UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign.
"I feel strongly about HIV/AIDS and children because I'm a famous singer, a public figure, and I'm a female and a mother," she said. "I have the responsibility and the passion to help out and do whatever I can."
As delegates from more than 150 countries prepare to leave Toronto, UNICEF hopes the one message they will take home with them is that the fight against AIDS cannot be won without considering the needs of the group most affected by the pandemic. It is time to deliver for children and young people.