Youth Take the Lead at ICASA

Young women and men eagerly huddled at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) booth around lunchtime every day during the International Conference on AIDS and STI in Africa (ICASA) December 2-7, where they shared their thoughts on the needs of youth and how best to engage with their peers.

“Young people discussed how to stay in care and addressed peer pressure at AHF’s daily Youth Sessions,” said Alice Kayongo-Mutebi, AHF Regional Policy and Advocacy Manager – East/West Africa Bureau & Malawi. “They also stressed the need for more youth-friendly centers and healthcare workers, access to information, self-esteem and confidence building, mental health support, and access to sexual and reproductive health services, among others.”

AHF also brought two Girls Act youth ambassadors, Ozolicious and Fancy from South Africa and Kenya, respectively, to the Conference in Kigali, Rwanda—the pair took the lead on youth efforts by first fanning out across the convention center to recruit young people for the daily informational workshops, and then led the educational sessions.

“This was an exciting and innovative way to use the booth space as a platform for young people—for a couple of hours each day, we’d give them the floor and they’d engage in conversations about sexual health on their own terms,” said Denys Nazarov, AHF Director of Global Policy and Communications. “The talks were lively, very interactive, and we received valuable feedback that will guide our youth-focused services and advocacy going forward. There’s so much talk of getting youth involved in the global AIDS response—we’re actually doing it and learning many valuable lessons along the way.”