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Changing the Mindset of the young people on HIV/AIDS

It was a bright sunny Thursday morning. About 200 children of United Nations staff members in Uganda aged between 8 and 18 years were dropped off for the day by their parents. It was not at school that they were dropped off because it was holiday time. They were dropped off to have a day of fun while learning about HIV/AIDS and contributing to Zero AIDS related deaths in Uganda.

The children had lots of fun playing many games in the expansive grounds of Kati Kati Restaurant in Kampala, but importantly they were also engaged by staff from UN Cares in an interactive seminar on HIV/AIDS. The occasion was graced by the Head of the United Nations in Uganda, Ms. Rosa Malango, the UN Resident Coordinator, who engaged the children in an interactive session.

Ms. Malango used the opportunity to encourage self-respect and confidence in the children and youth. She also had a dialogue with the children about what the UN stands for, human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The children and youth in turn shared about their dreams - to become doctors, lawyers, pilots and scientists. She also shared about universal rights - equality protecting the planet, access to health and how HIV/AIDS prevention is part of protecting their dreams and empowering them to be ambassadors of the UN in their daily lives. She urged all the children and youth to engage in an open conversation where everyone would have a voice and would agreed on what they would do differently going forward.

Like most of his peers, Jeremiah was excited to be part of the UN Cares Youth seminar. As curious as only a child can be, he was determined to listen and learn since he had been waiting for an opportunity to build his knowledge on HIV/AIDS.

“I know that AIDS is a killer disease and that most people get it through misbehaving,” said 9 years old Jeremiah, when asked about what he knew about HIV/AIDS during the one day UN Cares youth seminar in Kampala.

Jeremiah added that the bulk of his knowledge on HIV/AIDS was learnt from school and television adverts as his parents provided very limited information or changed the topic whenever he asked them about it.

Viola 15, another participant at the youth seminar said that she would use this opportunity to get answers to all the questions she has had for a long time about HIV/AIDS to be able to protect herself better.

It is for this reason, the UN in Uganda organised the UN Cares Youth Seminar to educate the youth and children of UN staff about the problems of HIV/AIDS and how they can control and prevent it.

UN Cares in Uganda is part of the UN systems wide workplace programme on HIV and AIDS that aims at ensuring that all staff and their families in Uganda have access to HIV/ AIDS prevention, education, voluntary counselling and testing services in order to have a workplace free of stigma and discrimination.

In Uganda, the event marked one of the many efforts through which the UN promotes the UN Cares minimum standards and presents an opportunity for the UN to reach out to the youth with empowerment strategies and life-skills that are important in realizing an AIDS-free generation in Uganda.

“I believe that this seminar will guide you in a proper direction with the right information that will empower you to protect yourselves from HIV,” Ms. Rosa Malango, Resident Coordinator United Nations in Uganda said while speaking to the young people at the seminar.

Ms. Malango called on parents to provide adequate information to the young people so as to prevent new HIV/AIDS infections which are on the rise. This information will enable them to make safe choices concerning their health and ultimately their future.

Globally, an estimated 3.4 million children under 15 years were living with HIV in 2010 and more than 90% of these were in sub-Saharan Africa. Children under 15 years constitute 13% of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in Uganda.

Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world with 77 % of the population less than 30 years of age, each week 570 young Ugandan women aged 15-24 get infected with HIV. In Africa, Uganda is second to South Africa where 2363 young women get infected with HIV every week.

Despite declines in new HIV infections, the AIDS epidemic is far from over and the numbers of new HIV infections are rising in many countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the most affected region, women account for up to 61% of infections and HIV remains the leading cause of deaths.

In Uganda, the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey shows that youth are sexually active at very young age with 11.2% of girls compared to 19.8% of boys aged 15-17 years having had sexual debut before reaching 15 years. Therefore if youth delayed engagement in sexual activities, it would control the spread of HIV infection, and the youth would be able to make smarter and more well informed decisions when older.

UN Agencies in Uganda