Young HIV advocates at the 21st International Aids Conference have called for better strategies to reach out to the thousands of young women who are most vulnerable to HIV infection.
Young women in South Africa have among the highest rates of new infections in the world.
24-year-old Zandile Simelane is one of the many young voices calling for action to empower women and girls. Her journey with Aids has given her the courage to help others.
“I was seventeen when I was infected by a man twice my age. I think at the time of vulnerability not to talk to anybody about my personal issue. So the next best was this option to focus on this man who gave me all the attention that was necessary. It has been seven years. I think for me more than anything it was a chance to giving back to fellow young people. You never really understand it until you’re somehow connected to it,” says Simelane.
She is a representative of the internationally-funded DREAMS initiative. The group works to reduce new infections among adolescent girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
It aims to strengthen families through social protection programmes and it wants to shift norms and mobilise communities.
Systems which were weak when Simelane needed them as a young woman. “The stigma and discrimination, it’s very difficult to change mentalities,” says Simelane.
She says young girls must be informed and be given better support by those in the health system.
Past conferences have shown that civil activism and voices like Simelane’s are necessary to the success of ending Aids.