AIDS-related illnesses remain the leading cause of death among adolescents in Africa and the second primary cause of death among adolescents globally. Young women and girls are more at risk than young men and boys: in 2014, 62 percent of new HIV infections among 15-to-19-year-olds globally were among young women and girls.

Education to empower

This inequity can only be stopped if the factors that increase young people’s vulnerability to HIV are confronted head-on. It is crucial that schools implement comprehensive sexuality education, which not only enables people to make healthier choices but also challenges gender norms and discrimination against people living with HIV.

"No one must be left behind, including marginalized populations, such as young people who sell sex, young men who have sex with men, young transgender people and young people who inject drugs."

Providing young people with access to HIV testing and treatment services as part of quality sexual and reproductive health care is essential. This includes removing age- and gender-related barriers and ensuring age-appropriate, easily accessible health services. Supporting community-led programs to address gender-based violence and challenging harmful cultural practices are also essential.

Equal opportunity

The youth movement is vibrant and mobilized—it is demanding that young people’s human rights be respected, including their right to health and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Young people must be supported to lead the AIDS response and be fully involved in policy-making and the design and delivery of effective and age-appropriate HIV programs. 

No one must be left behind, including marginalized populations, such as young people who sell sex, young men who have sex with men, young transgender people and young people who inject drugs. Programs and service delivery must be underpinned by a respect for human rights and by people-centered approaches that challenge stigma and discrimination wherever they exist.

Young people on the verge of entering adulthood today can lead the movement to achieve the end of the AIDS epidemic and the UNAIDS vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.