January 27 2020 0Comment

Introducing AfNHi youth cohort – Evelyn Odhiambo

“As a young African leader, I chose HIV research advocacy as my focus because I grew up in a community largely affected and infected with HIV.”

One of the greatest needs for prevention advocacy in my home town, Nyanza region, is how to fuse Advocacy and Behavior Change communication. This would target people’s attitudes and behaviors making it easy to reduce and manage the Virus spread. You see, it is all a cycle. There are very many widows and orphans in my village whose husbands and parents demise resulted from HIV. These groups, both young and old women, then fall below the poverty lines which forces them, to engage in transaction sex for fish to feed their families, for access to material goods and even to meet some of their basic needs (sanitary towels, cash, beauty products, food & clothing). This cycle then leads to rapid increases in the spread of HIV.

Evelyn, AfNHi youth cohort, strong advocate for women and girls
Evelyn advocating for women and girls
   

There is also a great need for the allocation of funds toward advocacy to allow for the contextualization of messages to reach the rural areas with no access to digital means of communication. Many young girls and women in my community do not have access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights information and services due to lack of a supportive environment and the general neglect of people in the rural areas when it comes to matters of Health among Women, Adolescent and Young people. These are my pushing factors to educate, inform and empower people in my community to embrace the practice of safe sex and be number one champions in the reduction of HIV rates. It has however, not been easy.

One of the biggest challenge in my HIV prevention advocacy efforts in my country is negating the messages from community members who work to promote fear, stigma & discrimination. This is mainly from a point of ignorance and lack of training on attitude change toward people living with HIV. These messages tend to violate others’ Rights to expression and freedom of movement, especially for those living with HIV.

Communities fighting the introduction of sexuality education for young people, both in and outside of school, is yet another challenge. Without this education, young people engage in sex using any information retrieved online and without prior knowledge or skills on safe sex thus leads to increased new Infections. It is very difficult for advocates and for key communities to correctly engage with positive advocacy messages when the community gatekeepers are the opposition in the fight for quality health care.

I am however, still hopeful that the relentless HIV prevention efforts in the world will lead to the discovery of a HIV vaccine and even in the process provide a cure for the virus. ARVs now have the ability to reduce the viral load to a point of U=U (undetectable=untransmissible) therefore there’s a high chance of getting a vaccine and a cure for the virus.

 
Evelyn, poster exhibition at ICASA

Through my advocacy efforts, I want to see my Kenyan government take keen interest in new HIV prevention technologies through funding of research institutes and supporting them in the quest of finding a vaccine. The government also needs to fulfill their commitment to allocate 15% GDP to health which will help accelerate the research. I also want to get my government committed to working closely with CSOs towards zero related HIV /AIDs deaths in my country.

I also call on my government engage fully in Domestic Resource Mobilization that will see to the achievement of the highest health standards. Kenya needs to source for funds internally and not be donor dependent when it comes to matters related to HIV.

The AfNHi youth cohort platform enhances my advocacy efforts as the platform equips me with different advocacy and technique skills from other young leaders. We get to share best practices in holding states and government accountable when it comes to health matters. It also provides an avenue for youth voices.It is time for young people to be given space to talk about issues affecting them. The AfNHi youth cohort provides me that space!

 

 

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