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Youth Voices are Weapons in the Fight Against HIV

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Mercy Mutonyi
Monday, December 2, 2019
General

In AVAC Report 2019: Now What?, we called out to these advocates, members of “Generation Now”, encouraging them to sustain their bold efforts in the fight against HIV. Below is one response and more are available here.

The author, Mercy Mutonyi is a young advocate from Kenya and 2019 AVAC Advocacy Fellow with Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme.

Dear AVAC,

Your letter to Generation Now in AVAC’s 2019 Report identified important issues regarding youth organizing that spoke directly to my personal experience as an advocate working on the frontlines of HIV prevention advocacy. As a young woman and HIV prevention advocate, I understand firsthand the importance of youth engagement in HIV prevention advocacy. I believe that young people need to be directly involved in shaping discussions that affect us personally and demand a primary role in co-creating prevention campaigns that speak to my communities’ particular concerns. While young people may tune out sexual health messages from the adults in their lives, they pay close attention to their peers and it is essential that we are empowered to help shape the messages and their dissemination amongst our generation. Youth voices and peer-to-peer education are powerful weapons in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.

I am proud to represent my community as a leader in key decision-making forums such as Kenya’s HIV technical working group and to have played a key role in developing Kenya’s national PrEP guidelines. I am also honored to have served as the lead PrEP Ambassador, Project Co-Investigator and Administrator of the medical and community education components of the oral PrEP (Truvada) pilot study project implemented by BHESP-LVCT-SWOP in 2015-2017. In this role, I coordinated and worked with 12 other PrEP ambassadors to create awareness of PrEP at different hotspots in Nairobi. We shared feedback from female sex workers on their views and opinion’s of PrEP and supported female sex workers interested in oral PrEP screening and enrollment. I have also shared my experiences using PrEP on national and local radio stations, social media and national TV stations, and community engagement meetings. This kind of participation from young leaders is essential to ending the epidemic where I live and work. Without it, young people will look in vain for faces and voices they trust as complex issues around HIV treatment and prevention unfold. Thank you for recognizing the significance of this work and the unique contributions young people, and particularly young women, bring to the field.

Mercy Mutonyi