JOHANNESBURG — In early October, 125 adolescent health advocates from 25 countries gathered in South Africa for the first International HIV Adolescence workshop. The conference aimed to share knowledge among thought leaders from across the globe, addressing both triumphs and concerns in the fight against HIV and its impact on adolescents.

The need is dire, as adolescents are the only age group for which HIV-related deaths are not steadily declining. Adolescent girls are particularly at risk, and are more than twice as likely to become infected than boys of the same age. Gender-based sexual violence contributes to the spread of HIV; girls who have experienced sexual violence are 1.5 times more likely to contract HIV.

Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and endorsed by Grassroot Soccer (GRS), the two-day workshop hosted a wide range of multidisciplinary presentations. GRS Global Director of Strategy Chelsea Coakley was featured in a panel focused on demand creation, specifically as it pertains to youth engagement.  “This is a new community of practice, where the realities of young lives are taken seriously, from the perspectives of researchers, practitioners and most importantly – adolescents,” Coakley shared. “It was refreshing to be in a forum where researchers were not just talking to other researchers. We are excited to be part of this community going forward.”

Pictured (from left to right): Grassroot Soccer staff Ilana Cohen, Boyd Mkandawire, and Chelsea Coakley

Also present from GRS were Managing Director (Zambia) Boyd Mkandawire and Partnerships Program Manager Ilana Cohen. “The workshop brought together some of the most knowledgable, insightful, and impactful individuals and organizations in the adolescent HIV field,” Cohen said of the experience. “All spheres of influence were represented – adolescents living with HIV, government officials, clinicians, researchers, programmers, and advocacy groups – and all came together to paint a holistic picture of the needs of adolescents living with HIV, to discuss best practices in responding to those needs, and to recognize ongoing gaps in research, policy, and programming.”

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