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REPORT- UNAIDS SPECIAL REP. MEETS YOUNG PEOPLE IN GHANA

BACKGROUND

The Crown Princess of Norway, Mette-Marit is a UNAIDS Special Representative who was appointed in April 2006 and has since then in this capacity, undertaken trips to different countries and participated in international conferences and relevant international working groups on the HIV response.

The Crown Princesses primary focus has been on securing youth leadership in the effort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to combat prejudice. She has to this end, undertaken personal initiatives including inviting 28 young leaders from all over the world to the Young Leaders Summit II at Losby Manor outside Oslo to work on specific recommendations for future AIDS effort and has together with the Crown Prince of Norway started a Humanitarian Fund since 2001 to support efforts towards HIV prevention.

The Crown Princess is on an official working visit to Ghana and as part of her schedule met young leaders involved in the HIV response in the country. The meeting lasted for about half an hour and was held at the Holiday Inn Hotel near the Kotoka International Airport in Accra.

The Participants

1.Cecil Ato Kwamena Dadzie, 21, Children and Youth In Broadcasting – Curious Minds
2.Edith Asamani, 20, Global Youth Coalition on HIV and AIDS (GYCA)
3.Anita Akumiah, 24, Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG)
4.Emmanuel Ashong, 24, Children and Youth In Broadcasting – Curious Minds
The meeting was also attended by the UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Dr. Leopold Zekeng.

Objectives

Owing to the deep commitment of the UNAIDS Special Representative to New Generation Leadership in the AIDS response, the meeting was held for her to:
1.Hear about the work of the different organisations each of the young people (participants) represented;
2.How they work;
3.Challenges they face; and to
4.Hear their opinion on how we must move forward locally and globally to actively secure space for young people in the AIDS response – aiming at an HIV-free next generation.

4. Key Points Raised
The meeting started with brief introductions by all participants. This also reflected the work each person was doing in his or her organisation.

Ms. Edith Asamani, the National Focal Point for GYCA, observed among others that her organisation was one that worked globally to promote youth leadership in responding to HIV and AIDS. She explained that the strength of the Coalition depended on member organisations and individuals in various countries to promote its cause hence regular capacity building in Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) including HIV, budget tracking of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and enhancing youth leadership were some of the ways they ensured that these young people were adequately prepared to confront the challenges of HIV and AIDS and other Sexual and Reproductive Health concerns.

Ms. Asamani expressed her appreciation of how youth-friendly and youth conscious the Crown Princess was, and her special interest in HIV & AIDS and youth leadership. She stressed on the need therefore to use this platform to learn best practices from other countries and cut out these new ideas to suit the specific needs of the country.

Another participant, Mr. Emmanuel Ashong, Programmes Officer of CYIB Curious Minds mentioned that his organisation has for the past fifteen years, been using the media to promote issues of children and youth including HIV and AIDS and SH concerns. He asserted: Curious Minds’ work is anchored on four main areas – Advocacy, Capacity Building, Communication and Organisational Development.

He explained further that the organisation has various radio programmes in four out of the ten administrative regions of Ghana and these programmes are used to advance the cause of young people alongside a quarterly produced youth magazine called The Springboard which is distributed to key government institutions and youth groups across the nation.

The group has also offered capacity building in SRH including HIV and AIDS, Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSPs), Basic Broadcasting, Communication and Advocacy skills – all aimed at getting members well equipped to articulate the ideals of the group and respond effectively to the youth cause.

Ms. Anita Akumiah of PPAG also accounted for the work of her organization which includes providing SRH information and services to all persons. She however articulated a shift in focus from just targeting adults to a greater priority on young people. She also mentioned a prisons programme currently being undertaken by PPAG to sensitize inmates on how the activities of Men who Sleep with Men (MSMs) contributes to the HIV prevalence rate in Ghana and provide them with required services.

Another participant, Cecil Ato Kwamena Dadzie, who is also a member of CYIB Curious Minds added that the organisation also embarks on several awareness creation campaigns in rural communities to help bring the plight of young people in these communities to the attention of the relevant authorities.

Dr. Leopold Zekeng added that the various organisations have been working actively in the HIV response in Ghana and recalled the quarterly Youth Colloquiums organised by CYIB curious Minds which brings young people together to deliberate on a selected issue. He observed one of the Colloquia held last year focused on Ghana’s HIV response and the Targets set in the Millennium Development Goals.

Dr. Zekeng also mentioned the strong involvement of Curious Minds in the development of the HIV and AIDS National Strategic Plan 2011 – 2015 together with a youth consultative meeting which included other youth groups like GYCA and PPAG to make submissions into the document which defines Ghana’s response for the next five years.The Crown Princess of Norway, Mette-Marit, was impressed with the work of the various youth groups and expressed her personal believe in young people championing their own affairs.

In response to a question on the involvement of young people in the HIV response in other countries, she said: the situation was different from country to country stressing, in some instances that the young people ‘shy away’ for fear of stigmatization. On challenges faced globally in the AIDS Response, the UNAIDS Special Representative observed that medication for Persons Living With HIV (PLs) was a major problem adding “for each person who is put on medication, there are two new infections”.

Dr. Zekeng intimated that young people played a key role in the HIV response but acknowledged the lack of capacity of most youth groups to access funding for their activities adding UNAIDS will this year build the capacity of such groups to help address the challenge.

He commended Ghana’s Vice President, H.E John Dramani Mahama for his show of support to the HIV response and his resolve to even support the establishment of a fund (if need be) to strengthen interventions in the country. The young people also mentioned some of the key challenges they face in their work as the lack of funding to support young people involved in field, wide gap between knowledge of HIV and behavioral change, stigmatization of PLs coupled with the poor economic situation of persons these interventions are aimed at.

5. Conclusion

The Special Representative expressed gratitude to the team for making time to meet her and assured that she will take some of the concerns raised at the meeting to the higher levels of the AIDS response and urged the young people to continue with their work for humanity.

Dr. Zekeng concluded by thanking the Royal Princess for her service and support to UNAIDS and young people in particular. He pledged to have a follow-up meeting with the participants towards enhancing young people’s involvement in the HIV response in Ghana. For their part, the young people expressed delight at meeting the Special Representative and believed she was an inspiration to them – adding the interaction provided another springboard to stair them up in their work as youth.

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