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Engaging Youth to Eliminate HIV

Plan is partnering with youth in Malawi to prevent the spread of HIV.

Members of a youth group meet in Malawi.

In the past month alone, youth intervention in Malawi has identified at least eight young people who needed referrals to social work and health care facilities for issues related to neglect and sexual abuse. How? Through effective collaborations that promote youth involvement.

In Malawi, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for 7.2 percent of those living with HIV. Young women and adolescent girls, in particular, are disproportionately affected. They account for about two-thirds of those 15-24 living with HIV and more than one-third of new infections within that age group. In a country where youth under age 15 comprise 45 percent of the population and youth under age 25 make up two-thirds of the population*, partnering with the key group of 12-17-year-olds is exactly the kind of strategy we need to employ to eliminate new HIV infections.

One way to increase impact through partnerships is to engage populations, especially the most marginalized, in making decisions regarding the very programs that are proposed to address their needs and empower them to act. At Plan, we strive to help youth advance their rights and facilitate youth inclusion in projects that affect their communities by ensuring that our work includes a platform for them to be active and vocal participants. Why spend the resources and energy trying to formulate activities that will address the needs of young people when you could instead defer to the ones who have the most direct experiences with their talents, challenges, and opportunities? It’s more efficient and effective to collaborate.

In partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Health Commission Lilongwe District, Pact, and Maestrel, Plan is engaging in the USAID-funded, CRS-led Coordinating Comprehensive Care for Children (4Children) project to improve the health and well-being of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV in Malawi. Some ways in which the 4Children project promotes youth involvement include:

  • Developing tools to reflect and promote youth participation
  • Orienting staff in youth engagement
  • Creating youth advisory panels to enhance the leadership skills of existing youth groups and to integrate young persons (both boys and girls) in project implementation and decision-making
  • Crafting a database that will collect information on youth needs and use them to inform the forum

Plan’s Senior Technical Advisor for Youth in the 4Children program, Mphatso Magwaya, explains that youth are playing a valuable role in the project: “Young people are critical in achieving the 90-90-90 goals in Malawi because the country has a youthful population. The project will … ensure that HIV-negative youth remain negative and HIV-positive youth do not transmit the infection.” For instance, members of teen clubs have been particularly effective in helping caseworkers find other teens or family members living with HIV.

Partnerships with youth will allow us to expand our impact to the margins of HIV infection; they are the key to HIV control.

*Statistics cited in Catholic Relief Services. (2017). Coordinating Comprehensive Care for Children (4Children) Malawi Workplan. Baltimore, MD.

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