This post was written by Elizabeth Futrell with contributions from Ivens Reyner. Elizabeth Futrell is an associate technical officer at FHI, where she works on activities related to community-based family planning and youth sexual and reproductive health. Ivens Reyner is a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Brazil.

This June marks the 30-year anniversary of the first reported diagnosis of AIDS in the U.S. As the global AIDS pandemic now enters its fourth decade, an estimated 5.4 million young people ages 10-24 are living with HIV worldwide. Each year, nearly half of all new infections occur among young people. In addition, each day, half a million young people across the world are infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) other than HIV.

Youth Coalition is one of a growing number of international youth-led and youth-focused organizations committed to promoting adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive rights (SRR) at the national, regional, and international levels. Comprised of students, researchers, lawyers, health care professionals, educators, development workers, and activists, Youth Coalition aims to ensure that the SRR of all young people are respected, guaranteed, and promoted. Coalition members work tirelessly across the globe to advocate for the inclusion of youth-friendly language in international documents and agreements; advocate for comprehensive SRR for young people, including access to information and education, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, and meaningful participation in all decision-making processes that affect them; and build the capacity of young people working on SRR issues to advocate on their own behalf.

Currently, Youth Coalition is participating in a review of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS made at the 2001 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS). The Declaration called on all governments to reduce HIV infection rates among youth ages 15-24 by 25 percent in the most affected countries in 2005 and by 25 percent globally by 2010. The Declaration also set a goal that by 2010, at least 95 percent of youth ages 15-24 would have access to information, education, and services necessary to develop the life skills needed to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Declaration, and while several African countries with high HIV prevalence did report a decline of 25 percent or more among urban youth, research indicates that fewer than 50 percent of the world’s young people have comprehensive knowledge of HIV prevention.

“Access to information related to HIV among young people still needs to be scaled up,” asserts Ivens Reis Reyner, 21, an active Youth Coalition member from Brazil. On April 8th, the group was among a number of youth-led and youth-focused organizations to attend a hearing at the UN headquarters as part of the review process. These organizations worked together to develop key messages that represent the pressing needs of young people. This June, the world will come together to review progress and chart the future course of the global AIDS response at the 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS in New York. At this meeting, Member States are expected to adopt a new Declaration that will reaffirm current commitments and outline actions to guide and sustain the global AIDS response. Says Ivens of the upcoming meeting, “We are going to work to ensure that young people’s rights will be respected and that our needs will be addressed.” He argues that when it comes to youth SRH and HIV prevention, most countries have a lot of work to do, noting that many young people still face barriers to accessing key SRH goods and services, such as condoms and HIV counseling and testing. Ivens feels that young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are often overlooked. “That is the reason for us to work together, not only with youth organizations, but with SRHR organizations as well.” Though the goals set out for young people in the Declaration have not yet been achieved, they are still within reach. There is still hope that to the next generation of young people, HIV will be a thing of the past.