“When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of a global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?” - Nelson Mandela
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus is transferred from person to person when an HIV positive individual’s blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk comes in contact with another person’s bloodstream (through the mouth, throat, or breaks in the skin). This viral infection usually occurs during unprotected sexual activity, but can also occur between an HIV/AIDS positive mother and her child, through an unsecure blood transfusion, and by sharing used needles.
Once infected it takes as long as 8 to 10 years for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus to effectively breakdown the bodies’ natural immune defences, which leads to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS for short. Although scientists around the world have been working hard to obtain a cure or even a vaccine for the HIV, none are currently available.
According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (2007), about 33.2 million people are infected with HIV worldwide (which is 16% lower than 2006 estimates. So, far 2.1 million people have lost their lives to AIDS. Youth are particularly at risk as young people between the ages of 15 to 24 account for more than 40% of new HIV infections. Young women are also more at risk for contracting HIV; three times more likely than males in Sub-Saharan Africa and almost two times more likely in the Caribbean.
The most devastating effect on the world’s youth, as a result of the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus around the world, has been the alarming increase in the number of children and young people who have been orphaned by the disease. In 2007, there was an estimated 11.4 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa.
The new face of HIV/AIDS is undoubtedly global leadership or more importantly youth leadership and education. Youth leaders are raising their voices on the issue of HIV/AIDS all over the world while spreading a message of change and healing among their young peers. For example groups such as “The Young Women of Color Leadership Council” who are striving to educate at-risk youth of color on issues of HIV prevention and community leadership; “Youth Visioning” who aim to encourage and support young leaders living on small islands around the world to propose and implement projects that will effectively impact how youth experience and understand HIV/AIDS; and the “Rural Sensitization Campaign in Cameroon” who is actively challenging youth to learn and be trained on healthy sexual practices, HIV prevention and transmission, testing, and treatment, in addition to targeting young women and men, this campaign aims to involve parents and children HIV/AIDS educational programmes.
There are several other factors that contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and the marginalization of people living with HIV/AIDS, which include high levels of: Severe poverty, unemployment, inadequate medical care, and risky sexual activity. However an additional factor that often goes unnoticed is the presence of stigma that becomes associated to people living with aids (PLWA) and who have openly revealed their HIV/AIDS status in their community. Stigma may result in isolation, physical and verbal abuse, and even in the premature death of PLWA. The spread of stigma among PLWA is preventable, but it requires the community and grassroots organizations to work together to minimize the fear and the overemphasis on the problems associated to HIV/AIDS when spreading awareness about the disease.