14 Mar 16

Shkreli masks stunt

Youth Stop AIDS is a youth-led movement, powered by Restless Development and STOPAIDS, campaigning for a world without AIDS. They’ve just a whirlwind month, touring the UK and spreading the word about their Missing Medicine’s campaign. Tabby Ha, Youth Stop AIDS Campaign Coordinator, sums it all up below.

What a month for Youth Stop AIDS! For the past month, we’ve had three incredible young speakers from the UK, Ireland and Uganda touring the country with us. Telling your honest and personal story to groups of strangers all over the country each day is no easy task, but our speakers were exceptional.

They delivered inspirational speeches in-person to a massive 732 young people and decision-makers, over 22 events, across 17 cities. Whilst many were lucky to hear their stories directly, we potentially reached nearly half a million more through a series of TV and radio interviews.

George Hankers (21, UK), Brian Ssensalire (22, Uganda) and Robbie Lawlor (25, Ireland), told their gripping personal stories about living with HIV. Their stories didn’t shy from their hard-hitting and emotional experiences of living with HIV, such as being humiliated and banned from school or having violent schizophrenic delusions.

Youth Stop AIDS speakers

Despite their incredibly challenging experiences, our speakers weaved in real power, positivity and even an element of humour to their stories, moving the audience between both tears and laughter. They told their stories in such an endearing manner, that you couldn’t help but leave feeling both privileged to have heard them – and angered by the profit-driven incentives that drive inequality in our access to medicines globally.

Personally, the part that hit me and re-motivated my campaigning spirit the most, was Robbie’s comparison with Brian in Uganda. Whilst many people living with HIV will be able to take cheaper anti-retrovirals, some people become resistant to these and have terrible side effects. Robbie is on his fourth option of HIV drugs because of the extreme and potentially fatal side effects he has had.

As these drugs can cost over $20,000 per person per year, they are simply not available in most developing countrie. Robbie said:

“If I was born in Uganda, I’d have to choose between adverse mental health effects and kidney damage. I am only alive because of the country I was born in.”

This is why we run the Missing Medicines campaign, because the system we have for developing medicines is broken, meaning that pharmaceutical companies dictate extortionate prices for drugs. This needs to change.

And who better to drive this change than young people? For anyone needing a bit of inspiration, George certainly delivered. A musical theatre performer disclosing his HIV status for the first time, George motivated us all in his unwavering belief that young people should be at the heart of change. George said:

“Is it a bad thing that I’m Positive? No. Because…I wouldn’t be stood here today if I wasn’t and there would be one less person fighting to change the future”

George Speaker Tour

As we reached the end of February, the tour finished and we had to wave goodbye to our speakers. But our campaigning didn’t finish there.
Just a few weeks later, inspired by what we had heard in the last month, over 40 activists from across the country took the Missing Medicines campaign to the streets of London. Our stunt starring the notorious ‘pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli outside a UN meeting in London caught the attention of Mashable who highlighted our call “for an end to the shocking cost of vital drugs by fixing the system that allows for it”.

Shkreli masks stunt outside UN Meeting

On the same day, those activists managed to lobby 17 MPs in Parliament before the award-winning Huck magazine got all of us excited when they ran a piece called ‘The Young People fighting AIDS and Big Pharma’. Included in their lovely words was this brilliant snippet:

“Their aims are ambitious, and amount to nothing short of total reform of the pharmaceutical system, but the activists behind the organisation are fiercely committed to the cause.”

Feeling inspired? Want to be a part of this? Then join the movement.

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Youth Stop AIDS is supported by Erasmus, STOP AIDS and Restless Development.