Young people living with HIV are not just a statistic, we are not defined by our status. There is more to us and to our needs than just our HIV status. This is one of the key messages that I hope gets amplified at the 2018 International AIDS Conference.
As an HIV-positive youth who has suffered from depression, it was really hard to get help for my mental health problems because everyone was focused on my HIV status, but forgot about every other aspect of health. There is a common misconception that if you can deal with the virus, then you can deal with all other problems. For so many young people, this is not true. Everything is intertwined, and everything has an effect on the wellbeing of young people living with HIV. For so long, the approach has been to talk more about the HIV aspect of our lives and automatically expect every other part of our lives to fall into place once we are virally suppressed. This week I have heard some talk about integrating psychosocial support for HIV-positive youth - I hope we can do even more.
During our Grassroot Soccer AIDS 2018 pre-conference event, Changing the Game in Adolescent-Centered Design, one presentation that really stood out for me was on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how these have an impact on tackling issues to do with HIV. This particular presentation reminded me that HIV is like a little child at the store crying for toys and once you give it these toys (peace, nutrition, clean drinking water, access to health services, access to treatment, etc.) then it will stop crying and go to sleep. This should be the ultimate goal.
Are young people being heard? Yes, we are, but is what we are saying reaching the right ears? No, it’s not. Youth participation is still being treated like a passenger that you pick up on the way to your final destination – the final destination being zero new HIV infections. It's still in a trial-and-error phase; for how long will it be in this phase? The time is now to take our words and transform them into actions – actions that are not only beneficial, but have a long-standing effect. Yes, social and economic problems are diverse in nature and no one policy can stand the test of time, but effective change should start today.
Diana Taonga Tembo Kennedy is a Curriculum Training Fellow and Grassroot Soccer (GRS) Master Coach from Lusaka, Zambia, who is HIV-positive. Taonga has risen from a GRS participant, to a peer mentor Coach, to Master Coach and international trainer in the GRS curriculum. Taonga is working on her BA at the University of Zambia in public administration, as well as studying political science and gender studies. Taonga is a role model and mentor for adolescents, and delivers valuable life skills and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and HIV education.