The Melbourne Youth Force released the ground breaking Youth Action Plan, and highlighted the key advocacy messages of Treat all People. Respect all rights, END HIV/AIDS in a press conference on 22 July 2014.
The 2014 Youth Action Plan states “The needs of adolescents and young people cannot be ignored any longer. Despite the advances in the fight against AIDS, we are experiencing a crisis in the adolescent and youth pandemic.
We have the tools to address this crisis, but we need governments, policy makers, and healthcare professionals to commit to real and effective change by 2020.
We need to TREAT.REFORM.EDUCATE.LOVE”
The panel spoke about the Youth Action Plan, and its development, which was done in consultation with young people both in Australia and internationally. The group highlighted that the action plan contained solutions they had identified, and not just a set of abstract ideas. It is “simple, understandable and actionable”. The voices of young sex workers, young drug users and young transgender people were noted as being missing from the discussion.
The Action Plan consists of the four pillars or Treat, Reform, Educate and Love. Treat focuses on treatment accessibility, treatment funding and ensuring the involvement of YPLHIV as equal partners in youth friendly HIV treatment, care and support services. Reform focuses on legal and policy strategies, notably “removing age restriction and parental consent requirements that impeded young people’s access to HIV and SRH services.” Educate highlights the need for comprehensive sex education (CSE) and peer education, youth friendly programs and accountability measures to ensure young people are involved in monitoring and evaluation. Stigma, discrimination and rights based approaches all make up the Love pillar. Young pregnant women, the need to address strict gender norms and the need for gender sensitive programs are highlighted in the Action Plan.
Discussion was then held around CSE and peer education, with Laura John stating that in her consultations with young people around Australia, education was raised as the number one issue of concern. The Melbourne Youth Force highlighted the research that shows peer to peer education and mentoring combined with CSE in schools as the best model for educating young people, and also the model identified as the most desirable by young people. It was also highlighted that any tools developed for young people, should be developed by young people.
The question of young people’s complacency towards sexual health was put to Mitchell Payne, who agreed that young people had become complacent about sexual health, in Australia, particularly due to the advancement of treatments, and the lack of visibility regarding sexual transmitted infections in public health campaigns. Kaushi also highlighted a sense of complacency in India, which is juxtaposed with “young people putting their lives on the line every day to support their peers” in India and around the world where there is a significant amount of stigma, discrimination and criminalization.
This led to a discussion on the demands placed on young people to advocate for a variety of issues, and the lack of funding to support young people in these endeavours. It was noted that the majority of young people volunteer their time to advocate, while they are also trying to gain educational qualifications, and build careers. Key funding bodies do not fund the salaries, office expenses or professional development of young people to allow more significant responses and engagement by young people. Young people need to be invested in and supported to have their voices heard. Many of the young people on the panel shared experiences of tokenistic youth engagement where young people had been consulted, but shut out of the key decision making processes. The panel urged young people to “Own their own spaces”.
Lastly the panel addressed the importance of addressing mental health in regards to HIV/AIDS, with stigma, both self and external, being more dangerous to young people than the HIV. The need to focus on working with social, cultural and religious leaders who set the social norms was strongly stressed as key to reducing stigma. Addressing bullying and peer pressure was also highlighted as an area that needs urgent attention.