HIV Advocate and Campaigner
Audrey is a mentor from Zimbabwe Young Positives (ZY+), a support group working with young people in Zimbabwe who are living with HIV.
You spoke at the STOPAIDS and International HIV/AIDS Alliance Parliamentary Reception on 28 November. What was your message?
I did — and I was very excited about it. My passion is raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, especially among policy-makers, so I think it was a great opportunity for me to champion the cause. I emphasised how important it is for people with HIV to have a quality of life that goes beyond treatment. They need psychosocial support, and social, economic and human rights support, too. I find that when I get a chance to talk to policy-makers and parliamentarians about HIV, they are sympathetic and their responses are mostly very positive.
Why did you want to become an HIV advocate?
In my community, HIV is a big issue. I have family members with HIV and many of my friends have lost their parents to AIDS. Young people with HIV can have depression and may not adhere to treatment because they haven’t accepted their condition. Young women with HIV struggle to get a seat at the table and are often not given the space to speak up about the issues affecting them. That led me to being an advocate. I am now playing my part as a mentor in the Alliance’s READY to Lead project, a programme supporting young women to advocate for policy change in Zimbabwe. I want to help consign HIV to the past.
Why is peer support important for young people with HIV?
It’s easier for young people to be open with each other. And if one person talks about their HIV status and experiences, it makes it easier for others to be open about their own situations. When you know your peer is standing with you and supporting you, it’s a very powerful thing. If we can empower one generation, the generation that follows will also be empowered.
What are the most pressing issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in your view?
There are many. There is a funding gap because some donors think HIV is no longer an emergency. We have been making progress in HIV/AIDS — but we can also go backwards as well as forwards. Stigma and discrimination remains a problem too. Young people face partner violence and discrimination from their families and communities and healthcare facilities. It’s a terrible situation that needs to be addressed with better information and messaging.