I was born in the late 80s, and I spent my childhood in Burundi. On World Aid’s Day, I couldn’t help but reflect on our story and what we have gone through as a society. Most of us suffered in silence for a long time being affected directly or indirectly. If we were not infected with HIV, we were affected by it. Let me explain.
The virus was still new and unknown for a long time that our parents had unprotected sex without any concern. They were the first victims of the virus. An older cousin of mine once told me that in the early 80s, doctors reused needles and syringes to vaccinate more than 50 kids. Then suddenly the World started talking about HIV/Aids, and people were urged to get tested. This is how people found out about HIV, as they lost relatives and friends due to lack of knowledge and medication.
Three decades later, we still can’t open up about our story with HIV. We’ve been traumatized, left powerless… let’s not even talk about discrimination. We have all been affected by the virus, some way or the other.

On a positive note, the past two decades have been filled with success and promising signs. Progress was made in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the number of HIV-infected people receiving treatment in poor countries has increased, and we have witnessed doctors who can successfully neutralize the virus in the human body, allowing patients to rebuild their immune system to the same level as non-infected people.
In some parts of the world, some of us have access to anti-retroviral drugs that can wipe out the virus after or before unprotected sex. I have a friend who used to run at the nearest clinic to get the pill every time she had unprotected sex. We are almost there in finding a cure.

As we applaud the multiple medical advancements however, we are still facing a challenge, considering that every year, there are an estimated 380,000 new HIV infections among young women aged 15-24, accounting for 60% of new HIV infections among young people in 2013. Furthermore, 80% of all young women living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. Could it be that we have failed to protect the new generation from the pain that we experienced in the past? Who should we blame?

How are our governments taking the right measures to prevent the spread of HIV?
How are they supporting those living with HIV?
When those who are meant to help us find solutions are the ones ignoring us, who do we go to?
How are they promoting gender equality as a strategy to reduce HIV?
When we see older men or sometimes women taking advantage of younger boys and girls because of their social and economic status, how is our judicial system reacting?
Mr. President, before you talk about the third term, could you please elaborate the progress we’ve achieved considering these challenges we face as a society? What are the results? Or is the wellbeing of our children not a priority on your agenda?

The consequences of our silence and sometimes indifference are heavy on us. We also have to admit that our behaviors and cultures are not helping in our fight against HIV and AIDS. There are many reasons explaining the increase of HIV transmission among young girls.
For example, we often get to witness young girls dating older men for economic and social reasons. In Canada, where I lived my teenage years, we heard things like “it was a one night stand”, “get drunk and have fun, life is too short”. Furthermore, the influence of American celebrities isn’t helping at all, as they make the youth believe that you need to have a lover, and that having lots of sex is the norm. Not forgeting about peer pressure.

How do we get to protect this generation?
How do we change these deep rooted mentalities?
If we do SPEAK about our challenges, we will be able to find solutions. As we wait on our Governments to bring lasting solutions, we should be more responsible of our actions. That’s the only way we can choose different paths for our kids. We can only break the cycle of infection if we start by behaving responsibly ourselves. We need to be responsible for the sake of our children.

Creating an Aids free generation is only possible if we stand together, as we are all in the same boat. How can we all contribute financially for this cause that affects us all? How can you make a difference in addressing the situation? We hold in our hands the change we hope to see.

By Ms Shima who currently lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya.

(image source: sworldaidsday.com)