Alicia Keys: Don’t fail the children in Africa

For too long, Africa has been disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS. Almost 70% of the 36.9 million people living with HIV reside in sub-Saharan Africa, including millions of children — most of whom do not have access to treatment. AIDS is the No. 1 cause of death for adolescents in Africa.

We must not fail this generation. They are as vibrant, creative and ambitious and determined as any young person living in New York or Los Angeles or London. They deserve a chance at the future that they imagine for themselves. Their life and death should not be determined by where they were born.

At Keep a Child Alive, we not only strive to get more people tested and stay on treatment, we also look to address the issues that drive the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including poverty, gender inequality and especially stigma.

People living with HIV are subjected to extraordinary levels of discrimination, which is very damaging to young people. The fear of being singled out and isolated prevents people from getting tested and hinders their commitment to stay on treatment. So they drop out of care and, in too many cases, needlessly die.

With youth-specific programs, we can deliver high-quality treatment and bring young people together through education and peer-support groups within their communities, across Africa and beyond. New technology has made this work possible.

Now, through communication tools such as Skype, young people in Africa are able to connect and discover that they are not alone in this fight. They are finding their voices, talking about the challenges they face, learning from one another’s experiences and sharing their hopes.

These young people grow in strength in their determination to overcome this epidemic. They’re also stepping up to help others in their communities by becoming advocates and activists. They will play a critical role in ending AIDS.

Earlier this year, I was thrilled that Keep a Child Alive was chosen as one of 10 global nonprofit organizations to be included in an initiative called Upgrade Your World. Created by Microsoft for the launch of Windows 10, the program celebrates people and organizations that inspire and empower others to make a difference around the world.

As part of the initiative, each of the nonprofits received a $500,000 donation, along with the tech support to help continue and expand the work we’re doing.

The support team visited Alive Medical Services, our partner site in Kampala, Uganda, to understand how technology was being integrated into our programs and to look at potential future applications. Connecting with the people on the ground — the incredible staff, the young people and children receiving care — they were as moved as I am every time I visit.

In September, UNAIDS announced the ambitious goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. If we’re going to achieve this, we will have to dramatically expand access to treatment, especially for vulnerable groups such as children and youth.

That’s going to take resources. That’s going to demand innovative and creative new ideas — with the application of technology at the center. And that’s going to take partnership.

It’s more important than ever for us to work together to find solutions and work with individuals and organizations that share our conviction in making this happen, partners such as Microsoft.

As I look to the future, I do so with hope. I see the change we are creating, the lives we are impacting and the communities that are being lifted as a result. I’m excited to see an Africa full of potential and free of AIDS. And I invite all those who want to be a part of this movement to join us. It’s going to be an amazing journey.

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