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EDUCATION REPORT - Young Voices in the Fight Against AIDS

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Twelve-year-old AIDS activist Keren Dunaway-Gonzalez spoke at the opening ceremony in Mexico City. The Honduran girl is HIV-positive.
Twelve-year-old AIDS activist Keren Dunaway-Gonzalez spoke at the opening ceremony in Mexico City. The Honduran girl is HIV-positive.

One thousand young people from around the world attended the International AIDS Conference last week in Mexico City. They were there to represent the five million young people living with H.I.V. and the more than fifteen million who have lost parents to AIDS.

Twenty-one-year-old Andrew Francis from Jamaica says young people must be active at every level of AIDS policy-making. If not, he says, there will continue to be programs and policies that do not connect with the realities of young people.

Twenty-three-old Mary Awour Odhiambo of Kenya became infected four years ago after having unprotected sex. She says the drugs that she and others take to control H.I.V. give them the appearance of being healthy. But people on antiretroviral therapy can still pass the virus to others. So her advice to young people?

MARY AWOUR ODHIAMBO: "Never trust anybody, not even themselves. Even if you have to go like for sex, at least they should use a condom, because in this world you can't tell who has the virus now."

Other young delegates talked about difficulties facing AIDS education and prevention efforts. Twenty-year-old Himakstu Piplani is from India.

HIMAKSTU PIPLANI: "Things back home are not very good. First and foremost the sex education program has been banned by twelve Indian states. So that's not a good thing because we are not getting adequate knowledge and information anymore. Secondly, the legal framework in India is not very good when it comes to AIDS and young people. We have laws that criminalize homosexuality. We have laws that criminalize drug use."

The young people at the AIDS conference included teenage peer educators. Conference organizers invited seventeen-year-old Vanessa John Mlawi to speak about her work in Tanzania.

VANESSA JOHN MLAWI: "I am a peer educator in school and my role as a peer educator is I provide accurate information to my other students. And it is accepted and I think that by going on and doing this will make a really big change."

Another delegate, Alischa Ross of Australia, lost her mother and stepfather to AIDS when she was a teenager. She later started a nonprofit group called YEAH, Youth Empowering Against AIDS.

ALISCHA ROSS: "When you think of the fact that the majority of people in the world affected by H.I.V. are young means the majority of people with the experience are young. So that makes perfect sense that we are at the center of responding to this pandemic."

Alischa Ross saw hope in the large presence of young people at the latest International AIDS conference. At the first one she attended eight years ago in South Africa, she says, there were just thirty delegates under the age of thirty.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report by Nancy Steinbach, with reporting from Mexico by VOA's Rosanne Skirble. For more on the conference, go to www.unsv.com. I'm Steve Ember.

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