[img_assist|nid=215|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=75|height=100]I’m in day one of a Youth Summit at the UN Population Fund, and I’m pumped to meet the international youth delegation that’s been assembled. I’m curious as to how the summit planners are going to mobilize and equip such a disparate group for all the media and scheduling madness of any large international conference. More critically, though, I’m apprehensive and excited at discovering what exactly we’re facing in putting youth at the forefront of the UNGASS 06 agenda. It seems highly likely that the UNGASS review committee will face difficult political squabbling throughout the process with a US delegation that appears selected largely on political grounds, rather than on healthcare experience.
Young people throughout the world are in desperate need of accurate, comprehensive information regarding their sexual and reproductive health. I’ve heard enough stories concerning youth HIV infection and teen pregnancy in Baltimore and New York to gain a glimpse into how stifling, burdensome, and even life-taking the consequences of such events can be. It’s difficult, but so very necessary to empathize and imagine the severity of conditions my fellow generation of youth in HIV-ravaged places like Botswana, Peru, or Jamaica. Simply getting by is difficult enough for many living in such reaches of the globe; preventing the added burden of HIV or other sexual and reproductive health problems should be a no-brainer. It’s something that someone outside of the health world might think our modern world would have already taken care of, many years ago.
But instead, we face a giant roadblock in the way of young people’s access to complete information. The current Bush administration, with its Abstinence-Only-for-Youth education, continues to put ideology before evidence-based public health. As a youth organizer during my college years, I became so used to spouting numbers that after a while, I became desensitized to the reality behind the statistics. One which never lost its potency with me, however, was that teens and young adults account for half of all new infections. In particular, we’re talking about men and women between the ages of 15 and 24…now I’m 21 and like many of my peers, I rarely, if ever consider the thought of dying.
Oh sure, I know it’ll happen. Eventually. But when I think of Mark’s death—and generally speaking, I don’t—I get visions of grey hair, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, bathroom mirrors filled with government-subsidized over-priced drugs. The notion that thousands of young people each day are becoming infected with this virus–and are thus forced to deal with and, in many circumstances, prepare for their own deaths–is truly astounding.
Call me an idealist, but it should not, and does not, have to be this way. I believe that humanity is capable of much more than what our track record has shown so far in this battle with the AIDS pandemic, which is not only the greatest issue of my generation, but also the most important fight in human history. I hope to give you an inside glimpse into what youth are doing throughout this high level meeting, as well as cast a critical eye over as many of the formal meetings as possible.