Youth engagement fundamental to HIV response in West Africa

By agency reporter
April 20, 2017

Adolescents and young people in the West African countries of Togo and Benin are confronted by various obstacles in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.

The World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) West Africa regional office in Lomé, Togo, organised a workshop for 25 adolescents and young people from Benin and Togo to help in making safe, responsible choices to prevent HIV infection.

Over two days, young people and adolescents drawn from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Togo, Methodist Church of Togo, Protestant Methodist Church of Benin, Christian Council of Togo, the association of people living with HIV Espoir Vie Togo, the Young Men’s Christian Association (Togo), the Muslim Union in Togo and some private schools, shared experiences on the importance of accessing youth-friendly services in health centres and the need for available adapted and appropriate information to help them make conscious choices.

While the world is celebrating advances made in HIV responses, there is a significant rise in adolescents and youth group living with the virus. Almost two million young people aged 10-19 are living with HIV. It is therefore crucial to revisit available information and services in order to respond efficiently to young people.

The UNAIDS country director in Togo, Dr Christian Mouala, addressing participants, said: ”I am convinced that the youth engagement is fundamental to solve the current HIV situation”.

 Prof Vincent Pitche of the the national AIDS secretariat, who officially opened the consultation, said: “Investing in the human being is the most rewarding investment, particularly investing in young people in order to bring down the epidemic by 2030. Therefore, be encouraged, young people and adolescents attending this consultation, to share the acquired knowledge and information with other young people”.

The workshop highlighted the major cause of HIV risk for adolescents and young people: the lack of dialogue and communication with their parents on sexuality as sex continues to be a taboo. It identified the main source of information – the internet – as both positive and negative and underlined the need for help in reformulating, understanding and making choices.

 Mme Toure from the Togo Muslim Union and professor at the Islamic School said: ‘The intimacy and the complicity between parents and children should start from early childhood to enable children to feel free to ask questions, share challenges and seek proper advice”. Contextual study of sacred texts has created a safe space to share the experience of women in the Koran and the Bible on the right to inheritance. (Sourates 4:11-12 and Numbers 27; 1-17).

The workshop ended on a positive note with youth leaders committed to take action in churches and schools – both public and private – to raise awareness of the importance of comprehensive education about sex, violence and HIV, and to promote 'Thursdays in Black', a campaign against sexual and gender-based violence.

* WCC-EHAIA https://www.oikoumene.org/en/what-we-do/ehaia

* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en

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