A group of young ‘ambassadors’ aged 13 – 24 from black African church communities in south east London, have been trained to tell other young people of the dangers of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers and young adults in the capital.
The project has been organized by the ActionPlus Foundation charity, based in Deptford, which is seeking to remove the stigma of HIV among black Africans in the UK, many of whom are church goers who fear being ostracised if they test positive.
The charity also works in Lewisham, Lambeth and Southwark which are among those with the highest prevalence of HIV in the capital and the UK in general.
The young ambassadors will be commissioned at a special ‘graduation’ ceremony on World AIDS Day, Thursday 1st of December 2016, 4:30 pm until 8.00pm, at The Lounge (Deptford Library), 9 Giffin Street, London, SE8 4RJ. The event will include an HIV testing clinic.
ActionPlus Foundation believes that the most effective message to teenagers is from young people their own age, so the young ambassadors will educate their peers and encourage and help those at risk to come forward for testing. They will speak at meetings in schools, churches and community groups and they will put themselves forward as friendly counsellors for young people too scared to speak to an adult about their fears or diagnosis.
The CEO of ActionPlus Foundation, Rev Fred Annin, says: ‘Too many young people in London are continuing to have unsafe sex. The rate of infections among young people is increasing and this is a worrying trend. We need to continue to engage with them and drive home the message about safe sex. Leaders in our communities – especially church leaders – should understand the pressures on young people and help them stay safe. There is no shame in coming forward for testing. Churches must not stigmatise people if they test positive for HIV.’
One of the ambassadors, 17 year old Nana Akosua Adjei, said: ‘There’s a lot of ignorance and risk taking amongst young people about contracting a sexually transmitted disease. We want to be able to speak openly about the risks and persuade people to get tested rather than stay silent. And if they test positive, then we will be their friend, offering advice to help them further.’
A United Nations report suggested that globally, 10-19 year olds were the only age group in which AIDS related deaths rose between 2001–2012.(3) ActionPlus Foundation, 9 Griffin Street, Deptford, London SE8 4RK
Charity Registered Number: 1066542
ActionPlus Foundation has four goals:
Preventing the contraction and onward transmission of HIV in a campaign among church leaders and youth
Promoting the benefits of early interventions including early testing while encouraging the youth to be at the centre of the campaign as peer ambassadors
Challenging prejudice while engaging with church leaders, many of whom have never accepted HIV as a medical condition
Reducing the negative experiences faced by people affected by HIV.
During HIV Testing week, ActionPlus is holding an event for churches on Sunday November 27 th at Deptford library, which will include an HIV testing clinic for church goers. The young ambassadors will make a presentation at the service. It has already organized similar testing centres in churches in London and Luton.