Assisting Young People and Children Dealing with HIV and AIDS

Five boys sit in the grass with paper in the middle of them. One smiles at the camera.

The World Health Organization and DFID have written a straightforward guide to working with youth that has tips on how to assess priorities and develop an action plan. HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care among Especially Vulnerable Young People A Framework for Action focuses on three primary domains: risk-reduction, vulnerability reduction, and impact mitigation in the development of effective programs.

The guide includes "Five Core Principles in Helping Vulnerable Young People," which is a great list so we're mentioning it here too.

  1. “Putting the young people first,” acknowledges a wide age range (10-24) of vulnerability as well as the social variability of youth's experiences. While recognizing vulnerability, a concern for individual dignity and respect is of utmost importance.
  2. “Promoting meaningful participation” targets the greater goal of acceptance and appropriateness of the program efforts, and helps to minimize the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS within social parameters. Encouragement of such participation translates into young populations becoming potential resources to one another through mutual support and acceptance.
  3. “A commitment to rights” resonates with the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, recognizing the right for children to attain a maximum standard of health and to have access to health facilities for treatment and rehabilitation. 
  4. “Promoting gender equity” addresses the disproportionate gender distributions in various parts of the world. In Africa, for example, HIV and AIDS disproportionately affects female youths while in the Americas, East Asia and Europe male populations are more vulnerable. Due to the divergent socializing strategies in various cultures and societies, stereotypes and ideologies dominating local culture (i.e., what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine”) may increase young peoples’ susceptibility to infection. Sex and gender roles are a considerable factor when dealing with sexual and reproductive health and not to be undermined.
  5. “Tackling risk and vulnerability” are the keynotes of these core principle programmatic goals. Tackling risk attempts to lower the number of youths acquiring infection by reducing risk-taking behaviors such as engaging in unprotected sex or recreational needle drug use. Although practiced by some individuals, risk-behaviors do not occur in a social vacuum. Instead, the social context (culture, family, community) may influence individuals and promote certain at-risk behaviors. Therefore, tackling vulnerability acknowledges the social context of group membership, along with the broader societal influence and the quality of resources and programming available. 

This framework can help create successful HIV prevention methods with young populations. The guide promotes action to reduce risk (promoting safe sex, reducing risk in drug use, providing counseling, testing, and education, etc.), reduce vulnerability (in supportive family, school, and peer networks, in access to commodities, etc.), and reduce impact (by reducing the social and financial consequences of infection, increasing access to vocational education or legal services, etc.).

Valuable Takeaways

In reading HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care among Especially Vulnerable Young People A Framework for Action and becoming better acquainted with their five core principles, a couple observations jumped out at us as important lessons to take away. These lessons are especially important when dealing with vulnerable populations, but are helpful to many of us as we all have vulnerabilities that affect our lives in one way or another. 

The first lesson learned here is the appreciation of individual differences. At the core, we coexist on a single planet but have highly individualized perspectives on our place in it. Our development, our age, our beliefs, and actions are just a few of the myriad attributes and situations that make us each different and unique. We must acknowledge that each individual has basic rights that should never be compromised. Some voices are not often heard because they are silenced or marginalized. These are the vulnerable constituents of the community that we must seek out, and we must ensure that they are heard, because they are likely to have something different to say than those more willingly offering their position.

While we have our individual differences, our second lesson is a reminder that we do share commonalities. Our environment, whether it's a small village in the country or a thriving metropolis, influences who we are in often subtle ways. Messages in our environment, from media, to education, to everyday norms of conduct, show us what is important in our culture. For example, boys and girls growing up in different places may attribute very different meanings to what it means to be a man or a woman in terms of showing emotion, strength, demeanor, and other aspects of social life. The groups and cultures that we associate with (and are raised into) shape our perspective of the world and our role in the social order.

In developmental efforts, a holistic approach is important to remember. We are here to foster change in meaningful ways.  We can help to change the attitudes and behaviors of individuals, but it's not until we resolve larger systemic issues (in terms of cultural values and expectations) that a sustainable change will occur.

Download HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care among Especially Vulnerable Young People A Framework for Action.