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Focus on ICASA 2015: A stronger resolve

The 18th edition of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) was held in Zimbabwe at the end of 2015. The conference, which brought together leading scientists, practitioners, activists and organizations, started on 29 November and ended on 4 December. AJAN was represented at ICASA by participants from AJAN House and from Benin, Madagascar, Burundi and Zimbabwe itself. They contributed to the collective pool of knowledge and resources by sharing their own experiences, best practices and pragmatic approaches. In this issue of AJANews, we bring you some insights they took away from the conference. Pauline Wanjau, AHAPPY manager from AJAN House in Nairobi, writes: 

What captured my interest when I attended the ICASA conference was the focus on young people. It is becoming clearer to the world that this group can no longer be ignored.

More than half of the presentations at the conference had a component about youth, which shows that this is an important population that deserves attention. Whether it was a session by UN agencies like WHO, UNAIDS or UNICEF or health development NGOs like AMREF, just to name a few, youth issues were part of it.

On the same note, a common language on how best to educate youth stood out, that of  comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). This was persistently emphasised as the best way to go about educating young people today. However, an important voice was missing in he debate: the voice of the Catholic church. This was quite unfortunate, because the church has been widely  involved in forming young people through many successful programs and schools, and they have a wealth of knowledge and best practices to share. This voice needs to be heard more in forums like ICASA and many others.

The core element of CSE is the use of condoms and other contraceptives for prevention or risk reduction of unintended pregnancies and STIs, including HIV. In one session a presenter from Malawi shared how they implemented CSE in a primary school while another project from Togo talked of implementing it from as early as kindergarten. I may not know how such interventions are tailored for each level but it still leaves plenty to think about.

It is unfair to assume most young people are sexually active. Truly comprehensive education is about looking at a young person as a human being who is growing through different development stages, about addressing the issues they face in a realistic and effective way, together with them.

There is plenty of talk about how essential it is to provide all possible information to young people to enable them to make their choice. But real prevention is not just about providing information.

A few years ago, Jesuits and collaborators started to pay closer attention to the needs of adolescents in a world of HIV and AIDS. The result was the birth of AHAPPY, a program run by AJAN that prioritizes the integral development of young people. I wish to reiterate here the stand we adopted as the writers of AHAPPY manual: “We are convinced that young people have in them the ability to change their attitudes and behaviours. But the power to leverage this ability is often denied or not exercised. This power must now be recognized, encouraged and supported from inside and outside. This will enable the individual to change and adopt sustainable behaviours that promote a state of mind, a healthy body and environment. And we are convinced that this is the most decisive means to face up to the epidemic.”


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