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Wednesday, 23 May 2018 14:49

Listening to young people

by Josee Koch

EHPSA has always been keen to find out how different groups of people receive evidence and what the factors are that affect the use of evidence. By now, we know quite a bit about how policymakers use HIV prevention evidence, but we know little about how young people use evidence. This is curious as one of EHPSA’s main research populations is adolescent girls... Luckily, EHPSA was provided with an opportunity to learn more about young people when The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) hosted a national summit on HIV prevention for young women and adolescent girls in April 2018. I learnt what happens when you put a large group of young people in a room with academics, policy makers and civil society representatives.
The outcome? Fired up and ‘woke’ discussions!

I’ll tell you what happened.

There were 160 participants from: SA Government Departments (DBE, DSD, DoH, DoW, Rural Development, NYDA, Economic Development and Sports and Recreation), Presidency and Premier’s Office, development partners, private sector, key implementing partners, civil society representatives, researchers and academics and a large contingent of adolescents.

The summit was mandated to respond to the unacceptably high rate of new HIV infections among young women and adolescent girls in South Africa and examine which programmes have worked and which should be scaled up and how things can be done differently.

Aligned to EHPSA thinking on Evidence into Action, the summit was cleverly timed to coincide with current policy windows on proposal writing for the new Global Fund grant and PEPFAR’s new country operational plan (COP18). It was an opportune moment for reflection and knowledge sharing and benefitting from joint learnings.

EHPSA presented an overview of the studies in our adolescent portfolio. In the subsequent discussion it became clear to me that young people receive evidence in a very similar way to policymakers. Researchers’ language does not speak to young people and the PowerPoint presentations are too “university”. This was a wakeup call to academics and I believe it is time that we invest in developing adolescent and youth friendly research messages.

Two of EHPSA’s adolescent studies, Empower and Mzantsi Wakho also presented the latest research findings and implementation science on adolescent girls and young women. There was a massive spotlight and interest from young people in prevention tools such PrEP and ‘cash plus care’. Young people stood up and broke into song and dance saying “we will not rest until we have access to PrEP!”.

But, young people would not be young people if they did not engage and challenge the content and the proceedings. On day two, young people changed gears and took ownership of the day’s proceedings and restructured the programme to ensure that it spoke to them, it suited them and it was inclusive. They engaged each other and us “young at hearts” in an open dialogue indicating they are “woke, enlightened young Africans”, making a call for a national youth summit in September 2018, organised by young people, for young people to bolster HIV actions for young people that count.

EHPSA won’t be around in September 2018, but our research legacy will be. Let’s not waste the opportunity to craft youth friendly research messages that can feed into platforms for young people.

Amandla! Viva young people Viva!

I left the summit completely inspired by the commitment and activism.

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