30 May 2024

For the fight against AIDS to be effective, we need to start from the principle of “doing with them” rather than “doing for them”. Listening to and taking into account the needs of the populations affected are still the keys to success. In West and Central Africa, young people aged 15 to 24 are the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, with over 300 new infections every week. But how can we work with young people and ensure that the proposed interventions meet their needs?

The path taken by a group of young Togolese activists living with HIV is a case in point: from their first meeting with the Global Fund in 2022, to their participation in the national dialogue and in developing grant applications for the period 2024–2026.

It all began at the AFRAVIH 2022 conference, when ambassadors from Réseau Grandir Ensemble took part in a round table discussion with partners to explain the situation and needs of young people living with HIV in West and Central Africa. This is how Emmanuel Hounsime, Kossi Dieudonné Awolokou-Fiotekpor, Dédé Tatiana Amegnran, Sitsope Adjovi Husunupe and Akolé Emmanuella Wilson-Bahun met Caty Fall Sow, now Director of the Africa and Middle East Department, who put them in touch with the Togo Country Team led by Sandrine Lourenço, Portfolio Manager, and supported by Juliana Reindorf, Program Officer.

The Global Fund made it possible for the network to meet with the Country Coordinating Mechanism, and then with UNAIDS, a partner contributing to the group’s capacity building through national consultations aimed at identifying the package of services to be offered to this target group and included in GC7. “What we found was that many things were being done for young people without being done with them,” explains Eric Verschueren, UNAIDS Togo Director since 2019. “The aim was to involve representatives of youth organizations as active participants rather than passive ones. Thanks to this support, the group has contributed effectively to formulating interventions for young people, and to negotiating and writing Togo’s funding application and HIV grant.”

“Thanks to this first meeting with the Global Fund, other possibilities are opening up for us in Togo and we have greater visibility at the national level as representatives of positive adolescents and young people.” — Dédé Tatiana Amegnran

Emmanuel Hounsime shared: “It was an extremely rich experience for us. We had to rub shoulders with consultants and high-level officials, and even contribute to documents to which we’d previously had no access. It gave us a broader vision of our commitment and also encouraged us to get organized.” Kossi Dieudonné Awolokou-Fiotekpor adds, “At the country level, we wanted to begin doing some advocacy work, but we didn’t know where to start. Caty Fall Sow thought that it was very important for us to take part in decision-making at the country level. I was proud to be a (participating) young representative living with HIV, and I learned a lot.”

This group of young people greatly appreciated this support, and it reassured them that they were being taken seriously and that their voices were being heard. As Dr. Akouavi Angèle Maboudou, Strategic Information Advisor at UNAIDS Togo explains, this ability to state and defend their interests enabled them to convince the Chair of the drafting committee to include a package of specific activities for youth in the 2024–2026 HIV grant.

However, there are still challenges associated with ensuring that a critical mass of young people speak the same language. As Dr. Verschueren points out, young people become older people, and other young people come along. Unlike most of the key populations with whom the Global Fund and UNAIDS collaborate in the fight against HIV, including the voices of young people into the national response involves an ongoing process of renewal.

By forging links between its partners, the Global Fund can continue to play a catalytic role in helping to ensure that young people take part in developing HIV policies. This is more the case since, as Sitsope Adjovi Husunupe sums up, “… being involved in the activities of the various bodies has enabled me to see that the ongoing presence of adolescents and young people on the national scene is essential. Even with all the goodwill of decision-makers, it’s up to us adolescents and young people to defend the needs of our peers and ensure they are met.”


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