all_inIt takes only 30 seconds for another person between the ages of 10-19 to be diagnosed with HIV. In total, 2.1 million adolescents are currently living with the disease. While work is being done to combat HIV/AIDS for all ages, many people do not know that a particularly vulnerable population it affects is adolescents.

Globally, only 20 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys ages 15-19 fully understand all the ways the disease can be transmitted. That is why President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta and big organizations like NAIDS; UNICEF; UNFPA; WHO; PEPFAR; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and the HIV Young Leaders Fund on behalf of the PACT and Y+ are “all in” on a new campaign meant to lower the HIV/AIDS rate in the youth population—called “All In.”

Those involved with “All In” have several motivations for this initiative. AIDS is not only the leading cause of death among adolescents in Africa, but the second leading cause of death globally, which Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, referred to as a “moral injustice.” In addition, only one in four people under 15 have access to any kind of treatment for HIV.

“All In” hopes awareness will spread by creating hashtags: #AllIn and #EndAdolescentAIDS. Hashtags are typically used by adolescents themselves, so it could very well be teenagers helping out their fellow teenagers around the globe.

“We need to reach the adolescents we are missing and engage all young people in the effort to end adolescent AIDS,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In fact, we cannot achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation without them.” So far, youths have shown they are on board: 200 young people from various organizations were present at the official launch of “All In.”

The ultimate goal for “All In” is to eradicate adolescent HIV/AIDS diagnoses entirely by 2030. They plan to do this by increasing prevention and treatment and, of course, getting the information out. Whether it is through trips around the globe or a simple tweet, lives can change by merely speaking up.

Melissa Binns

Sources: All In, UNAIDS
Photo: U.N.

When Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon did a skit speaking only in hashtags, it became clear that the use of the hashtag had reached a unique place in our culture. Their skit, while satirical, also made it clear that hashtags have unique power in not only describing trends, but also in raising awareness around important issues.

The hashtag (#), which was first introduced in 2007, did not take long to become a mainstay in the Twitter world. The idea first originated with Chris Messina, who wondered if it would be useful to have a way for friends to organize their messages into meaningful groups.

Not long after, it became the leading way to describe emotions, world events, trends, activities and ideas through social media. And over time, as its presence has grown, so has the flexibility with which it is employed.

From the first true global usage in 2009, in the wake of the Iranian elections and the Occupy movements, to the more recent use in #BringBackOurGirls and #YesAllWomen, hashtag advocacy has emerged and has played a role in promoting awareness and giving people a chance to weigh in on larger conversations.

The largest use of hashtag advocacy began when Invisible Children raised awareness for the Kony 2012 Campaign – harnessing the power of social media to spread their message. The campaign quickly gained 2.4 million tweets with the “#Kony2012” tag in March alone of that year.

While the merits and ultimate effectiveness of the Kony campaign are debated and criticized, it is worth noting that the campaign led to a level of awareness about an issue not yet seen before. In fact, because of #Kony2012, the African Union sent a force of 5,000 – including 100 U.S. military advisors – to help end the surge of violence in Uganda at the time.

From the start, critics decried the use of the hashtag as “slacktivism,” the idea that by spreading a message, people could nominally support a cause without actually having to do any leg-work. Others have argued that using a hashtag to raise awareness is about as effective as writing a letter to Congress – which is to say, it isn’t.

However, employing a hashtag or writing to Congress does draw attention to important issues. Elected officials react to public opinion, and when the public is writing in about a topic frequently, they rightly determine that it is an issue that people care about.

As one of the newest forms of grassroots activism, hashtags have the ability to play an important role in advocacy, generating media coverage at no extra cost. While it is important to not overstate the importance of translating the hashtag usage into action, raising awareness about an issue is a useful way of spreading a message and employing the kind of diplomacy that often makes leaders think twice when they are making decisions – what affect the issue will have on their reputation.

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has received its fair share of critics, but it has also brought the issue to the forefront of global discussion and has pressured the Nigerian government to act and accept assistance from other nations.

Just as the #YesAllWomen tag reached 1.2 million tweets in the span of four days, so can other tags be employed to raise issue awareness about development projects or the millennium development goals in fighting global poverty because ultimately, the more people who are able to be a part of the discussion, the greater the chance is that someone new will be moved to donate, to act, to volunteer or to dedicate themselves to the cause.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Washington Post,, The Guardian, Mashable
Photo: New Artist Model