HIV/AIDS campaigner and actress Charlize Theron today met Youth Ambassadors who act as role models for their peers and raise awareness of how to prevent the spread of HIV in communities in her native South Africa.
The Youth Ambassador Program trains young men and women, between the age of 18 and 30, in KwaZulu Natal province to disseminate HIV prevention messages by engaging with young people in schools, support groups, churches, at sport events and going door-to-door to meet people in their homes. It is supported by the Global Fund to Fight, AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
“When I see the enthusiasm and dedication of these young people, who are making such a vital contribution to preventing the spread of HIV with support from the Global Fund, I am fired up with hope and optimism,” said Ms. Theron. “We have made great strides in the fight against the disease in a short number of years and we are getting closer to finally defeating this pandemic. With the necessary funding, we can be the generation that defeats AIDS.”
South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world. Recent estimates based on the 2011 population census show 6.4 million HIV-positive people in the country. It also has 2.1 million people receiving anti retroviral treatment, more than any other country in the world.
Despite major progress in giving widespread access to treatment, new HIV infections numbered 343,000 in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. More than one third of new infections are among young women and girls, who are highly vulnerable to infection.
Ms. Theron was accompanied on the visit in the Ugu District of KwaZulu Natal by Christoph Benn, the Director of External Relations at the Global Fund. Ms. Theron spoke with beneficiaries of the Youth Ambassador Program and joined group discussions. Youth Ambassadors at the Malangeni Thusong Centre work to drive behavior change and encourage HIV prevention with messages to young people, particularly out-of-school youth.
In 2012 more than 300 Youth Ambassadors were trained, 70% of them female, and a further 350 are to be trained in 2013 and a similar number in 2014. The program aims to reach 107,000 young people over a two-and-a-half year period.
The Youth Ambassadors are trained to share information on gender issues in households and in relationships, gender-based violence, gender inequality and unfair discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. They can make referrals for HIV Testing and Counseling.
Originally from South Africa, Ms. Theron is a United Nations Messenger of Peace and an activist. In 2007 she founded the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) which supports community-engaged organizations targeting African youth. Today also marks the launch of a new short film by the Global Fund featuring Charlize Theron, Bono, Bill Gates, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and others calling on world leaders to be the generation to defeat the three pandemics. “The moment is right now” says Charlize Theron, speaking of the critical moment in the fight against the disease.