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Breaking the Silence for Australian Youths

The first of XIII International AIDS conferences to be held in a developing country, Durban 2000 'Break the silence', was undeniably a great success. However, this was not due to the scientific break throughs of new treatments, policy or vaccine developments. It was successful for far more humbling reasons, the ability for conference co-ordinators and leaders to address and focus on failures while only acknowledging successes, and not vice versa. It is only by being willing to learn from our mistakes that we can achieve the kind of solidarity necessary to impact on this virus the way it is impacting on us.

The conference followed a program that bridged issues of the individual both infected & affected with research priorities and policies. Interlinking the scientific with the community responses of over 12,000 delegates drawn together world wide to fight one common goal relevant to all fields of interest -to break the silences of HIV/AIDS.

The general attitude amongst the majority of delegates including those from Africa seemed to portray the idea that it is the so called first world countries that are leading the fight against AIDS. This was emphasised by the large focus on access to treatments in the developing world. I have no argument against this, it is a human right to be able to access the resources, including medication required to maintain and improve your state of health. After all, we are the privileged ones that often take for granted the basic necessities so readily available to the majority of us, such as good nutrition, housing, and health care.

We refer to South Africa as a developing country, however I didn't feel that enough emphasis was placed on the achievements of its communities in regards to the wide spread social acceptance and awareness of AIDS that I witness while travelling there. This made me question who is really leading the fight against AIDS? Do we as Australians really need to wait until the problem grows before we are prepared to wake up and pay attention?

All the medical treatments in the world cannot help people who are naive, and who continue to put themselves at risk of infection. At this point in time we have no proven vaccine, and many treatments turn out to be more of a hindrance than help for the majority of patients taking them. However, we do have one reliable defence against this disease, and that is the simple spreading of the message and understanding that AIDS IS PREVENTABLE.

It was obvious to me that it was the youth of Africa who were making the greatest impact in spreading this message, regardless of differing views on abstinence V's protection in regards to prevention measures. It was the few young African delegates whom I connected with during the conference that had the greatest impact on me. They inspired me to take the initiative to break the silence here in my own country, not just for myself but for the wider youth community, using my own voice as a young person that has grown up affected by AIDS. This incredible experience and inspiration has become the focus for my energy and involvement within the positive community.

Support groups that aim to bring together young people who are infected and affected by AIDS as well as those just wanting to educate themselves and their peers do exist in many countries, including other first world countries, but not in Australia. After deciding to postpone my studies with the full support of La Trobe University, I have chosen to focus on launching such a group here.

The object of the group will be to help youth rather than be comprised entirely of young people. My intention is to form a group that has no discriminatory restrictions due to gender, sexual preference or age, but rather have an inclusive membership that brings together all people interested in promoting peer support and awareness amongst the broader community of young people, including those that are infected and affected by AIDS.

The level of naivety regarding HIV/AIDS amongst young Australians is incredibly high. This puts the young people of this country in a very high-risk category. The information they require in most cases is not available through school or from their parents, and many young people rely on the excuse that the system has failed them, they expect to be told what they need to know and think that whatever they don't hear doesn't affect them. I would like to EMPOWER young people, my peers, to realise that it is both their right and responsibility to be informed about AIDS. This is something that is a potential health risk for all naive people growing up in the face of this disease.

Young people get as much information from their peers as they do from their parents and teachers, so it is vital that as many young people who have been touch by AIDS can pass on reliable information to their own age groups. I hope that the formation of this youth group will provide an avenue through which young people can achieve this, whilst also facilitating their rights and responsibilities to access reliable information about HIV/AIDS.

I am a true believer in the saying that 'from little things big things grow', and it has been the inspiration of Durban 2000 that has lead me to want to help break the silence for Australian youths.


Story added to the site in 2000.

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