Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong, the US Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy, recently paid a visit to the National Council for People Living with HIV and AIDS (NACOPHA) in Tanzania. The purpose of his visit was to gain firsthand insights into NACOPHA’s operations and to address the urgent issues surrounding HIV service provision among the youth.
NACOPHA, a grassroots-based organization established in 2003, serves as the unified voice of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Tanzania. Through its extensive range of programs, including advocacy, capacity building, community engagement coordination, research monitoring and evaluation, and management and governance, NACOPHA plays a pivotal role in the national HIV response.
Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong’s visit focused on engaging with youth representatives from universities, tertiary non-university higher learning institutions, and the National Young People Living with HIV Networks (NYP+). The primary objective was to address the concerning rise in HIV prevalence among Tanzanian youth and find innovative solutions to combat this pressing challenge.
During the visit, Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong held a special meeting with NACOPHA’s board members, government officials, partners, and representatives from various educational institutions. The CEO of NACOPHA, Mr. Deogratius Rutatwa, provided a comprehensive briefing on the organization’s programs, operations, and collaborations. The engagement of young people in HIV responses, particularly through the Community Led Monitoring (CLM) results, was emphasized as a significant contribution to involving young individuals from universities and other institutions in HIV interventions.
A round table discussion was then facilitated by a representative of the youth participants. During this interactive session, the young people highlighted critical concerns related to HIV responses. They emphasized the need for specialized clinics to support antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence and retention, youth-friendly services, provision of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and HIV literacy sessions on campuses, as well as the integration of services such as STI and HIV, family planning, PEP, and PrEP. The participants stressed that implementing these initiatives could significantly reduce HIV prevalence among Tanzanian youth. They also called for stronger youth leadership in decision-making platforms and the establishment of targeted HIV prevention programs.
Acknowledging Tanzania’s overall progress in HIV response, Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong expressed concern over the rising HIV prevalence among young people, with nearly half of the youth population being unaware of their HIV status. He emphasized the challenges faced in enforcing laws and policies related to HIV response and stressed the vital need for their effective implementation. The Ambassador encouraged young people to embrace leadership roles, take charge of their own future, and highlighted the importance of behavior change. Additionally, he inquired about how young people respond to mental health issues, recognizing the interconnection between HIV and mental health.
Based on the visit and the insightful discussions, several recommendations have been proposed:
- NACOPHA, with support from PEPFAR, will organize another forum to gather additional ideas and feedback from young people, ensuring their active involvement in shaping HIV response strategies.
- Efforts will be made to strengthen the enforcement of laws and policies related to HIV response, focusing on effective implementation.
- Youth leadership in the HIV response will be further supported by involving young people in decision-making bodies such as Council Multi-sectoral AIDS Committees (CMAC) and Ward Multisectoral AIDS Committees (WMAC).
- Providing knowledge on HIV prevention, including the establishment of prevention programs such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), will be prioritized in higher learning institutions to address the rising HIV prevalence among young people.
- Collaboration between NACOPHA and universities/tertiary institutions will be strengthened to promote youth-friendly services, sexual and reproductive health rights, and HIV literacy sessions on campuses.
Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong’s visit to NACOPHA marked a significant step towards addressing the rising HIV prevalence among Tanzanian youth. By actively engaging with young people and involving them in decision-making processes, the aim is to develop innovative solutions and effective strategies to combat the HIV epidemic. Together, with concerted efforts from organizations like NACOPHA, the US government, and local communities, Tanzania can work towards achieving a future where the youth are protected, informed, and empowered in the fight against HIV/AIDS.