Delegates at the start of the eighth South African Aids Conference on Tuesday heard that government had six months to respond to several demands made by the country’s youth at the Higher Education Aids conference (HEAids).
HEAids, also held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban on the weekend, was a precursor to the national conference, and saw some youth representatives calling for the return of the death penalty for crimes such as rape and murder.
At an emotionally charged session on Tuesday, youth participants took part in a plenary session that included singing and prose to illustrate the plight of adolescents living with HIV/Aids and to highlight gender-based violence.
Reading an “Open letter to HIV”, Saidy Brown took to the stage to share that she lost both her parents to the virus, and although she had tried to live her life “to the book”, she still contracted HIV.
“I hate you for taking my happiness away. Because of you, there goes my relationship with God … my life has spiralled out of control … my confidence is tainted,” said Brown in her presentation.
Delegates were told that “the youth are rising” and would be holding government and society to account in addressing HIV/Aids and gender-based violence.
Last year, it was announced that almost 2 000 young women were infected with HIV on a weekly basis in South Africa, with those between the ages of 15 to 24 having the highest infection rates.
According to Unaids, South Africa has the largest population of adolescents aged 10-19 years living with HIV of any country in the world, with many young patients not effectively linked to care after receiving a HIV-positive diagnosis.