The new generation making an impact on HIV

December 1, 2022

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Health Awareness

Meet five young advocates
leading the response to HIV around the world

HIV remains a global epidemic. In 2021 alone, an estimated 1.5 million people worldwide were newly diagnosed with HIV.

Merck has been committed to advancing science for the treatment and prevention of HIV for more than 35 years, but we know it takes more — it takes all of us to make a difference for the HIV community.

And that’s just what these International AIDS Society (IAS) Young Leaders are doing. In 2022, Merck was proud to sponsor 11 Young Leaders to co-create the Youth Hub — a youth-led networking platform that empowers young change makers living with and affected by HIV to lead in the HIV response. Merck was privileged to meet this class of leaders at the AIDS 2022 conference in Montreal. They are an inspiring group of advocates with different backgrounds and experiences in the response to HIV, each striving to empower and educate others from their respective corners of the globe.

Let’s meet a few of these young change makers.

Ashley Rose Murphy | Canada

Ashley was 7 years old when her adoptive parents told her she was living with HIV. But Ashley didn’t hide from her diagnosis. Even at a young age, she knew she was destined for more. By the age of 10, she began to speak publicly about living with HIV, talking to young people around the world about the stigma around HIV and how to protect and advocate for themselves. She’s been a key voice for youth activists engaged in the HIV response in Canada ever since, presenting on stages like the UN General Assembly and the Global Fund and even hosting a TED Talk.

Today Ashley, now 24, is an ambassador for Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR), and UNAIDS, which are committed to ending the AIDS epidemic either locally or globally through research, government-funded programs, global advocacy, prevention, testing and treatment options. Ashley remains an inspiration for all young Canadians living with or affected by HIV.

“I want everyone to know that an HIV diagnosis does not have to be the end of the world. We can all continue to live healthy and fulfilling lives, but it starts with educating yourself about your diagnosis and, most importantly, being your own advocate.”

  • Ashley Rose Murphy

Paul Mavesere Ndhlovu | Zimbabwe

Paul has been using his voice — in more than one way — to help young people living with and at risk of HIV in his native Zimbabwe for years. Over the past several years, Paul has produced a peer-led radio show as the creative radio champion for Zvandiri, an organization that “connects children and young people living with HIV with peer counsellors to assure health, happiness and hope.”

In his role, Paul — together with other adolescents and young people — has created a youth-friendly environment for people living with HIV to freely discuss challenges and issues in their own lives. The show explains to young people the importance of HIV prevention behaviors, the need for increased HIV testing, their sexual and reproductive rights, and available resources to help with mental health and wellbeing needs. In fact, at the International AIDS 2022 conference, Paul was selected to represent the voices and experiences of young people living with HIV and showcase the power of youth within the HIV response. He presented in 6 sessions. Paul has also been chosen from over 5000 applicants to be one of 17 United Nations Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals, a flagship initiative of the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.

“The Zvandiri Radio Show is such an important platform. I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be for young people to talk about their status due to fear of being looked at or treated differently by their peers. We are providing an open forum for people living with HIV to freely come as themselves and talk about any challenges they may face.”

  • Paul Mavesere Ndhlovu

Stefano Regner | Philippines

Stefano’s schedule is always busy, and as a “friendly next-door” physiotherapist and sexual health advocate, his work revolves around helping others.

As a trained HIV screener, counselor, and speaker with LoveYourself Inc., Stefano is constantly on the move — traveling across the Philippines to help link people living with HIV to immediate care and empowering individuals when it comes to understanding safe sex. He has also previously worked as a research assistant for one of the Philippines’ largest grassroots HIV test-and-treat centers.

And today, as both a medical student and a social media influencer, Stefano invests time and effort into providing educational resources for people living with HIV using health campaigns and videos.

“Social media provides a new platform and method to translate and communicate important topics about health and increasing health literacy. I enjoy sharing key information with my followers, especially as it relates to sexual and reproductive health among at-risk populations in the Philippines.”

  • Stefano Regner

Kalisito Biaukula | Fiji

Kalisito’s motivation to help give a voice to the voiceless and speak up for those in need is evidenced by their work across their island nation of Fiji and the surrounding regions. 

As an intersectional, queer, feminist activist and human rights defender, Kalisito has worked with various civil society organizations working with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC+) in Asia and the Pacific, primarily focused on addressing intersecting human rights issues.

Kalisito has dedicated most of their time to volunteering for various feminist-led civil society organizations, especially those working with key populations in the HIV response. They are a major advocate for people living with and impacted by HIV, fighting to ensure that they are receiving the proper care and government assistance that is needed and calling for comprehensive sexuality education at all levels.

“It’s important for young people, especially those living in the Asia-Pacific region, to take a leading role in decisions that affect our bodies. We must all use our voices to stand up for human rights and ensure all populations are receiving equal opportunities to access care and programs in this ongoing response to HIV.”

  • Kalisito Biaukula

Sara Thapa Magar | Nepal

From a young age, Sara developed an interest in social issues related to women and children living with HIV. This passion eventually led her to begin advocating on both national and international platforms for the needs and rights of affected populations living in the Asia-Pacific region.

Throughout her years as a gender and HIV advocate, Sara has been a board member of the International Community of Women Living with HIV Asia & Pacific (ICWAP) and has also spoken publicly about the need to support women-led organizations in their frontline role. In her current role as president of National Federation of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (NFWLHA) in Nepal, Sara works to tackle gender inequalities and end gender-based violence, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Nepal, we continue to see gender-based violence against women living with HIV. As youth leaders, we need to continue bringing these issues to the forefront and work to partner with the government and advocacy groups to address the challenges of women and children living with HIV.”

  • Sara Thapa Magar

The future is in good hands with these young leaders, advocates and activists, and we are excited to continue to watch the impact they make on their local and global communities. To learn more about this youth-led collaboration, visit the IAS Youth Hub.

© 2022 Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, NJ, USA and its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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