World AIDS Day 2019 – Reflecting on our Youth Haven program

By LSSNCA guest blogger, Maicie Jones

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In recent years, an overwhelming body of clinical evidence has firmly established the HIV Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) concept as scientifically sound. U=U means that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load—the amount of HIV in the blood—by taking and adhering to antiretroviral therapy as prescribed cannot sexually transmit the virus to others.

National Institute of Health, The science is clear: with HIV, undetectable equals untransmittable, 2019.

On World AIDS Day, it is worth noting that the transition of HIV from a terminal illness to a manageable chronic condition, similar to diabetes or high blood pressure, is one of the most under-celebrated accomplishments in recent US medical history.  People living with HIV/AIDS once had bleak futures, but now they have the opportunity to live long, full lives.  Once, there was a constant fear of infecting others; now, thanks to advancements in treatment, people with HIV are able to have romantic relationships, families and children without little worry of transmission.

Still, stigma against those with HIV persists, as public perceptions of HIV have fallen behind the new realities of treatment.  As a means to counter this stigma and help those with HIV adopt the habits needed to manage their condition, LSSNCA runs Youth Haven, a program created in 1998 for young people impacted by HIV.

hikeYouth Haven retreats and workshops throughout the year provide opportunities for teens and young adults living with HIV to share their experiences, learn about their condition, and develop strategies to manage their health and relationships.  Through these Youth Haven events, young adults are coached in life skills to build themselves socially and emotionally.  By creating an environment where those attending feel safe talking about their HIV status, relationships are formed so participants feel less alone in their journey and receive positive peer pressure to make good decisions related to their health.

For children age seven and older who live with HIV themselves or close family members with HIV, Youth Haven offers a week-long summer camp where children can relax and have fun with others who are supportive of their situations.  In 2019, twenty-four children attended and participated in traditional summer camp activities as well as built skills and relationships that would lead to stronger support systems and sense of community.

“These are some of the most compassionate young people you’re ever going to meet,” said Dara Yahya, the program manager for Youth Haven camps and retreats.  “By providing participants with a space to share their tears and fears and giving them support, we’re able to help young people better manage their lives, emotions and health.”

171 young people infected or affected by HIV participated in Youth Haven activities in 2017, and in 2020 Youth Haven will expand its programming to provide HIV and sexual risk-avoidance education in the local community through a new evidence-based curriculum. Our program can still really use your help through direct donations and partnerships! For interest in supporting the Youth Haven program please reach out to Dana Lea, lead@lssnca.org, or donate today!

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