Joyce and David Djaelani Gordon, Contributors Jakarta Post, Jakarta
With World AIDS Day just a few days away, many of us here are busy organizing programs, walks, shows and media presentations.
There are also countless numbers of people and organizations across the world who are preparing to deliver their HIV/AIDS messages on this day of observation and reflection, and hope.
At this time of year -- approaching the 20th World AIDS Day -- we consider the past, the present and the future. It is a time to spread the good news: the advances in medical research, the development of new strategies and hopes, and the search for effective vaccines. And we share, in retrospect, the failures, shortcomings and hesitancies of the past year too.
We have known for many years that much of the driving force, worldwide, behind the HIV/AIDS pandemic is "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll". In Indonesia, nationwide statistics show that 56 percent of all cases of HIV/AIDS are among 15-29 year olds.
Among the injecting drug users (IDUs) who are infected with HIV, 1.99 percent are 15-19 years old, and 68.22 percent are between the ages of 20 and 29. Cumulative data shows 72.1 percent of the AIDS cases in the capital city of Jakarta and 81.2 percent of the AIDS cases in West Java are primarily from IDUs. Looking at nationwide statistics by mode of transmission, 49.5 percent of HIV diagnoses are IDUs, and 42 percent were transmitted sexually.
"Drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll" remain a part of the youth scene. Today's youngsters represent a high-risk group for HIV, which also includes sub-groups of ultra-high-risk youth populations.
In fact this is a group of people whom we have had the chance to reach out to since they were preteens and teens. HIV/AIDS and drug use have been around for longer than the teens of today. Another reality is we have had much time and many opportunities to understand the mind-set of preteens and reach out to them.
Young people represent a huge percentage of the driving force behind the epidemic, as well as a huge number of those being infected by the epidemic. It is only natural, therefore, to involve young people in building existing networks and peer support systems and designing action plans.
A great deal of attention has been given to offering young people a voice in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Yet, herein lies the "gap". Why are there not more young educators, advocates, carriers of the message and planners of plans of action?
At YAKITA we have trained hundreds of young people and dozens of youth groups (16-24 years old) and we have some 200-plus young people engaged in outreach work every week.
After training, these young people are supported to do outreach work in their own areas. In their new roles, they automatically begin to provide care, support and treatment for other youngsters.
Yet for us and many others working with HIV/AIDS this only scratches the surface. The difficulties we have encountered here remain virtually the same as encountered across the nation and the globe for some two decades now.
There are many young people doing wonderful and heartfelt work. They band together with other youngsters and are courageously involved in most of the areas regarding HIV/AIDS and correlated issues.
Still, the reality is the number of truly youth-driven initiatives falls short in comparison with the prevalence of HIV in the lives of the nation's young people.
In many countries across Asia, the definition of youth participation is still limited. Hence, often young people are offered token participation rather than full integration in HIV/AIDS work.
How can young people plan or initiate anything if their basic education is limited. Or, if schools and communities working with young people remain shy and discriminatory in talking about HIV/AIDS.
Also young people, as is the way, over the years move into adulthood. Hence, the regeneration and retraining of young people must be done on a continual and evolving basis.
Adult commitment and funding -- which is absolutely necessary for youth to be thoroughly educated, given quality training, and given a place of their own (a facility/center) -- has all too often been lacking or shortsighted. Without adequate funding and support, young people and their services will be marginalized, and their programs destined not to last.
And, learning from past experience, we know that youth-to-youth education and outreach programs often work best. Young people have the energy to reach a great many other young people across the nation. And doing this work may help increase their self-esteem, self worth and life skills.
Youngsters possess a voice that reaches where no other (child, adult or elderly) voice can reach. There needs be a committed resolution to today's youth so that they -- as a collective population -- can kindle the kind of strength needed to challenge, to subdue, and then to minimize the spread of the virus.
It has taken time to be fully aware of the consequences of HIV. As for all of us living and working at the frontlines of the epidemic, we encourage increased investment in our youth in 2008.
So what can you do? Get the facts, and teach the young people around you about HIV/AIDS, about drug use, abuse and addiction.
If young people are not educated now about matters that will affect their lives, we will see more babies with HIV, and far more young people infected with HIV. If this happens more young people, more futures will be lost. The biggest loss of all is if we lose our children to HIV. It is our shared responsibility to turn back the epidemic. If we, as adults, cannot learn, how can we expect young people to learn? How can we expect them to carry the HIV/AIDS message?
Joyce & David Djaelani Gordon are the directors of YAKITA -- Indonesia, a peer-based drug recovery non-governmental organization.