Photo credits: hhrjournal.org, sumivector.com and www.nation.co.ke

The world is now abuzz with talk of the SDGs. Hardly can you scroll down your Facebook or Twitter feed and miss to see something concerning them. But what are the SDGs? In full, they are the Sustainable Development Goals and they are replacing the soon-to-expire millennium development goals (MDGs) as of 1st January 2016.

There are 17 of them and were launched by the United Nations General Assembly on 25th September 2015 in New York. They vary from quality education to ending poverty to achieving gender equality.

However, other than the launch of the SDGs, one other notable event occurred at the UN General Assembly this year. On the 27th of November, 12 year old Elijah Simel gave the opening remarks at the UN Aids conference. The world leaders gathered went ahead to give Simel a standing ovation for his words.

Simel is a Kenyan boy living with HIV. He represents the 23.8 million people on the African continent battling with the virus, according to the World Health Organization. Another horrific statistic Simel represents is that out of the children living with HIV worldwide, a staggering 91% hail from Africa.

Simel’s speech opened up the world’s eyes to the plight of people living with HIV all over the world. He highlighted the stigma he often faces, saying, “The mother of my best friend told him not to play with me and that made me very sad.” With his mother by his side, he bravely appealed to his gathered audience to stick by their promise to end the AIDS pandemic by 2030 which included ending the stigma AIDS patients face. “We are children, we have rights, we have a future,” Elijah added. And he had his words validated by the President of Kenya, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, who was also the co-chair of the event.

“Today, a young Kenyan boy has taken the lead,” Mr Kenyatta said, referring to Elijah as “a brave young man and an advocate, a champion of young people throughout the world living with HIV.” The president went on to make promises to be the first African country to take control of the AIDS situation and to improve the lives of many like Simel who said his dream is to have earned a doctorate in science by 2030, when he will be 27 years old.

Often history is remembered through the eyes of powerful and ‘important’ men and women, forgetting that those are the minority, and that history is actually lived by the common man, woman and child. Simel, not yet even in his teens has cast the light on the situation on the ground. How is AIDS handled in Africa? How effective is the medical assistance given? How bad is the stigmatization? And what is being done about it?

African culture prevents the free speaking out of such issues but people like Simel are able to break through the status quo and stand up to ask, “What about us?” It’s time for our beloved continent to follow in Simel’s footsteps to take a stand against the AIDS pandemic by speaking about it and coming up with solutions to ending it by 2030 as is envisioned.

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