Strengthening new generation leadership in Latin America & the Caribbean
Photo courtesy of Caio Mota
Latin America and The Caribbean region poses an interesting paradox to the global AIDS response. This is mostly because while there is a significant rise in the life expectancy of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the region, the number of PLHIV continue to be on the rise in the region. This paradox is most noticeable young people from historically disenfranchised populations, mainly among youth populations with either criminalized or stigmatized behavioural patterns. With a staggering 25% increase in the general prevalence rates in the region since 2001, at the height of the epidemic in the region, this rate is both a marker of progress and one that poses a great of concern in the global AIDS response. With the number of PLHIV in region inching close to two million people including youth –thanks to access to effective treatment, evidence-based prevention, and universal HIV awareness programs– the trend raises major questions: what is driving this pattern? What innovations are needed to address it? How can young people in the region play a critical role addressing this paradox?
Mindful of the concentration of HIV among young key affected populations across the region, and driven by a quest to develop a new generation leadership to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The HIV Young Leaders Fund (HYLF) is supporting new generation leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean to address current epidemiological paradox facing the region. Consistent with our core mandate of creating the right environment for young people to take a critical role in shaping the AIDS response, particularly among young key affected populations globally, our supporting and funding grassroots and transformational youth leadership movements in the region. Key among the youth leadership movements we are supporting in the region over the past years is the Latin America and Caribbean Network of Adolescents and Young People Living with HIV (J+LAC).
As part of our 2017 – 2018 Small Grants-making and technical support programs, the HYLF provided a grant of $10,000 to the J+LAC towards to the hosting of its fourth regional meeting and the development of the network’s 2018 to 2020 strategic plan. The meeting was recently held in Lima, Peru bringing together about 52 participants from 22 countries across the region, a delegation from the HYLF, and key players in the regional AIDS response such as the UNAIDS, UNFPA and the ILO. HYLF was represented by the Executive Director, Yahir Zavaleta and the Oliver Anene, the Board Chairperson respectively.
The meeting has two key goals, firstly, to map-out the challenges and issues facing young people living with HIV, gender and sexual minorities, injecting drug users, sex workers from across the region. And secondly, to formulate a concrete strategic plan based on the outcomes of the meeting to address the issues facing young key populations in the region. As more people continue to live with HIV while the general prevalence rates across the region increase, understanding the challenges facing these critical youth demographics is central towards address the questions emanating from the paradox curtailing the region’s AIDS response.
In his opening speech, Mr Yahir Zavaleta, addressed the young people representing their respective countries to take a central role in transforming the AIDS response into a viable movement to advance the health, dignity, and well of young people across particularly young key populations. For his part, Mr Oliver Anene, reassured the meeting delegates that the HIV Young Leaders Fund is genuinely invested in supporting the development of new generation leaders in the region to address the AIDS response emphasizing ‘nothing for youth without youth.’
The three days meeting and regional strategic planning progressed smoothly, with young people from across the region citing issues facing each of their respective countries, constituencies, and proposed solutions towards addressing them. And among the key outcomes from the meeting and embedded in the strategic plan is a greater need for young people from the grassroots to have a direct input into the region’s AIDS response. As a result, J+LAC is currently restructuring its leadership and management to better reflect the entire diversity of the region and its HIV youth community.
With support from the regional partners present at the meeting, the bottom-up model of J+LAC governance process, and the technical assistance from the HIV Young Leaders Fund, we hope to enable a new generation leadership to address the paradox facing the AIDS response in the region. We hope to do this by giving young people the resources, technical know-how, and support needed to engage at all levels of the region’s AIDS response.
By doing so, the HIV Young Leaders Fund, as it has done since its inception across the global south and in the region, hope to herald a generation leadership in the AIDS response of the region.
The meeting ended with statements of gratitude from participants, a roadmap, and partnership with the key partners present and plans to further enhance the technical skills and leadership of J+LAC to better address the emerging challenges facing young key populations, and the AIDS response in the region. In words of Raul Caporal, outgoing regional coordinator for J+LAC “Once we are committed to social issues, it is possible to create common strategies to fight and combat existing problems such as the challenging access to medicines, adherence to treatment, raising the quality of life, as well as resolving the difficulties that appear along the way such as lack of viral load and CD4, lack of medication, laws that marginalize people who have HIV. […] Join with active desire to build in present and projection, generate more autonomy with more capabilities, bring processes with love.”
We hope to replicate this model of partnership, support and engagement with young people in other parts of the world through our grants-making program, networks, and leadership development model. With this, we hope to eventually transform the AIDS response into a viable platform to advance the health, dignity and well-being of adolescents and young people across the globe.