“Young people are only treated as statistics and subjects of studies. The same young people, especially in rural areas, are not considered part of the conference,” executive director of the Emthonjeni community-based organisation Nomfundo Eland said at the ninth annual South African AIDS conference in Durban.
Young people — specifically girls and women — who are the most infected and affected by HIV are expected to pay expensive delegate fees to attend conferences that discuss them, she added.
“[The conference] is just a group of researchers and doctors under one roof discussing matters that concern young people in their absence and whose lives the decisions are taken here will affect,” said Eland.
HIV continues to disproportionately affect young, black women and girls, according to the latest figures from the Human Sciences Research Council. The prevalence of HIV in young women between the ages of 20 and 24 is three times higher than among their male peers.
HSRC’s executive director Professor Heidi van Rooyen said young women shouldn’t be used as tokens and be invited to panels as a performative exercise.
“We must engage young people in a more meaningful way … The main act is the people. We need to get to the people in the formative stages,” she said.
Eland also said HIV was not the only obstacle that young people face. “Young people also have mental health issues, we’re raising children as single parents and have unhealthy issues with our bodies,” she said.
Ntombozuko Kraai, a founder of African Woman Rising, said that young people deserve more options in the public healthcare system and a one-stop clinic where all their sexual and reproductive health needs will be met.
“Choices are unavailable for us and we’re only given what’s there. We should be offered services without being referred to other clinics,” she added.
– Health-e News