The challenges facing young people in South Africa were the focus of a dynamic meeting between South African President Jacob Zuma, UN Messanger of Peace Charlize Theron and the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé. Prominent issues in the discussions included the vulnerability of young women and girls to HIV in South Africa, the need for Africa to become more self-sufficient in producing antiretroviral medicines and the remarkable progress South Africa has made in responding to HIV recent years.
President Zuma said, "We came from a difficult time. We had all the plans but the manner in which we interfaced with the world was very difficult. I want to thanks UNAIDS, specifically Michel Sidibe, who has been a pillar of strength in supporting our country on HIV. During this very short time we have changed the life expectancy of our people due to his support and guidance."
The importance of reaching young people with HIV services was also stressed together with the need to integrate health care into education and youth programmes. The example of South Africa's Integrated School Health Programme, which aims to reach school children with primary health care services and life orientation skills, was highlighted as a positive way forward in improving the health of young South Africans.
"It's time to end AIDS," said Mr Sidibé. "It's time for zero preventable deaths due to AIDS, zero tolerance for violence and new infections among young women."
A recent study revealed that young women between the ages of 15 and 24 are three times more likely to become infected with HIV than young men in the same age group. HIV prevalence is also much higher among women (23%) in South Africa than in men (13%).
Ms Theron spoke passionately about some of the issues facing young people in South Africa that she has seen and heard through the work of her non-profit organization the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project.
"I can promise that we will continue to support you to keep yourselves and your peers safe from HIV," said Ms Theron.
Ms Theron and Mr Sidibé also met with Friends for Life, a non-profit organization located in Alexandra township in Johannesburg. Friends for Life is a community-based HIV prevention, care and support organization which works closely with young people.
"The visit was such a great opportunity for us to share our ideas and concerns as young people," said Thulani Tshefuta, a representative of the South African National AIDS Council's youth sector. "We hope that through speaking about the situation of youth in South Africa and continuing to serve as advocates, we see a change in our communities and in the lives of young people living with HIV."