KAMPALA – The Executive Director of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Winnie Byanyima has called on nations around the world to lift the stringent laws that require adolescents to seek their parents’ consent before accessing reproductive health saying such draconian laws have hindered the fight against young people.
Byanyima made the remarks on Thursday, December 12 while speaking at the thematic segment of UNAIDs Board meeting geared towards finding solutions towards reducing the impact of HIV in children and young people.
She said, “We must remove parental consent laws that block independent access for adolescents to access reproductive health services, including contraception, STI treatment, and HIV testing, prevention and treatment. We must keep all young people in school and ensure quality comprehensive sexuality education.”
Byanyima who recently took up her post at UNAIDs after leaving Oxfam also argued that there is need for governments to secure the funding, ensure policy shifts and be ambitious so that all children exposed to HIV secure rapid diagnosis, and all children living with HIV have a normal healthy lifespan.
She said, “In doing this let’s not forget that we must involve children, adolescents and young people in everything we do. Let’s empower them to be the change-makers and they will change the world. Reducing new HIV infections among children has been one of the major successes in the AIDS response.”
The UNAIDs boss added that there are still 160000 new infections in children in 2018, with 300 hundred children living with HIV dying, a trend she attributed to government systems failing to reach HIV-positive pregnant woman with Mother To Child Transmission services and when we do reach them these groups often fall out of care during pregnancy.
“This is often not just an issue of physical access to services but because of social, economic and structural barriers that they face: stigma and discrimination, gender-based violence, lack of food and money. Access to HIV treatment is a critical step to keeping children living with HIV healthy. We must ensure good nutrition, access to education, and support to their care-givers. It is about protecting their rights,” said Byanyima.
She also pointed out that in sub-Saharan Africa, 3 in 4 new HIV infections among 10-19 are among girls, “We all know why. Adolescent girls & young women are more vulnerable to HIV because of gender inequality. Young people account for a large share of new infections among key populations. We all know why. It is because of lack of access to discrimination-free services, it is because of stigma & marginalization, and often it is because of criminalization,” said Byanyima.