Skip to main content

Alicia Keys: Get loud about fighting HIV

By Alicia Keys and Cristina Jade Peña, Special to CNN
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Sat September 28, 2013
Keep a Child Alive projects in Africa help children and their families who are infected or affected by HIV.
Keep a Child Alive projects in Africa help children and their families who are infected or affected by HIV.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Writers: A generation of young people have only known a world with HIV
  • Millions of young people are affected or live with HIV, especially in Africa
  • They say vulnerable young people don't get the kind of treatment they need
  • Alicia Keys and Cristina Peña call on young people to join movement to end HIV

Editor's note: Alicia Keys is a 14-time Grammy award-winning musician, advocate for people with AIDS and co-founder and global ambassador of Keep a Child Alive, which supports partners in Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and India that provide HIV care to children and their families. Cristina Jade Peña is a grad student at University of California, Berkeley, and a Keep a Child Alive consultant. She became an HIV/AIDS advocate and educator shortly after learning she had been born HIV-positive. This is the second in a series of columns CNN Opinion is publishing in association with the Skoll World Forum on people who are finding new ways to help solve the world's biggest problems.

(CNN) -- Bernadette's father died from AIDS complications when she was a child. Her mother never even knew he had HIV until she and her daughter tested positive years later.

Shocked and angry, Bernadette couldn't accept the news. She refused to take her medicine. Depressed and shut off from the world, Bernadette imagined she would soon die. Then, at the urging of her mother, she joined a Sunday support group for young people living with HIV.

Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys
Cristina Jade Peña
Cristina Jade Peña

Over time, she became engaged in youth activities and opened her heart to the others. Today, she is a youth peer educator at Women's Equity in Access to Care and Treatment, where she shares her experiences with other young people living with HIV, encouraging them to stay in school, take their medicine and work for a better future.

This is just one example of a brave story. And there are millions more:

The teenage girl who was orphaned and had to raise herself and her siblings; the young man who refused to be silenced by discrimination and disclosed his status to friends; or the young couple -- one HIV positive and the other not -- planning their future.

These stories speak to the pain, loss and challenges that HIV and AIDS have put upon this generation, but also to the triumph of what's possible when we come together.

We are part of a generation that has only known a world with HIV. The United Nations says that about 34 million people are living with HIV worldwide -- and 5 million of them are between the ages of 15 and 24. That age group accounts for an estimated 39% of new adult HIV infections globally; and nearly 65% of young people living with HIV are women. Most of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Bernadette is one of those young people. Now 20, Bernadette has been a client at the WE-ACTx for Hope Clinic, Keep a Child Alive's partner in Kigali, Rwanda, since 2007.

Cristina and I have had the honor of visiting our Keep a Child Alive programs in Africa -- and Cristina just returned from a visit with some of the young people that I met when they were just toddlers. Ten years later, these young people are living healthy, happy, hopeful lives.

We've seen amazing progress in the past 10 years -- and though we still have a long way to go, more people are getting HIV treatment and fewer babies are being born with HIV. We're seeing the results of so many people's work to "keep a child alive," and now, the first generation of children who received HIV treatment are entering adolescence and young adulthood.

But for all of our progress, we are still failing this generation.

In the United States, young gay men and young women and men of color are particularly vulnerable to HIV. In terms of rates of infection, vulnerability, impact and -- most important to us -- the enormous potential to turn this epidemic around, young people are at the center of the HIV epidemic.

Despite this, most HIV treatment programs and policies are designed for children or adults, leaving young people caught in the middle of programs that fall short in meeting their special needs.

The good news is that across the world, young people are uniting to demand a seat at the table. They are demanding attention from their communities, health facilities, schools, governments and leaders.

At Keep a Child Alive, we believe in nurturing a strong, true and loud collective voice from our world's young people. We recently launched, 5MIL, a new initiative that seeks to address the needs of their generation as it relates to HIV.

Over the next few months, we will roll out 5MIL: Hangout, a youth-led platform to connect young advocates living with HIV and affected by HIV from Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and the United States. This grassroots, virtual dialogue is about fostering a safe space for young people to come together and talk openly about HIV, share challenges and solutions and connect directly with influential leaders.

We are calling for action from all young people around the world living with and affected by HIV and AIDS and the global community to join this movement.

Get loud! Talk, blog, tweet and text truths about HIV. By talking openly, we can take the power away from silence and fear and put it in the hands of knowledge, acceptance and love.

Tap into the Y-potential: Young people are passionate -- let's harness their energy and willingness to think boldly and take risks. Ask young people what they think and what ideas they have to turn the tide of HIV for their generation, their community and themselves.

Know your status: Get an HIV test and talk to young people about testing, prevention -- including using condoms and having good sexual health -- and treatment if they are positive.

AIDS isn't over yet. And it won't be without including young people in the conversation. We believe in a world where young people living with HIV and its effects can lead a life without fear. You believe they can thrive and follow their dreams.

I hope you will join us in our efforts to bring awareness and money to organizations such as Keep a Child Alive. Together, we are loud, proud, and strong!

And please tune into live streaming of the Global Citizen Festival this Saturday in Central Park, New York. I'll be performing, as well as John Mayer, Kings of Leon, Stevie Wonder and Elvis Costello. It's organized by the Global Poverty Project.

Opinion: Social entrepreneurs dare to change the world

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alicia Keys and Cristina Jade Peña.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT