This profile was prepared when Sani Youssef was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Believing that people living with HIV/AIDS must be at the forefront of efforts to combat the disease, Sani is mobilizing Egypt’s growing population of PLHIV behind a movement to increase dialogue around HIV/AIDS, and to advocate for better care. He works to improve the physical and psychological health of PLHIV, develop their economic potential, and enable them to play an active role in HIV/AIDS-related awareness efforts in their community, thereby paving the way for their long-term integration into mainstream society. His organization, Friends of Life—run entirely by PLHIV—provides psychological counseling sessions that address the social and emotional trauma suffered by PLHIV as a result of living in a society where they and their families are shunned. After ensuring that their basic physical and mental health needs are met, Sani works with PLHIV to develop their professional skills; giving them the tools they need to effectively reenter the labor force. Those living with HIV are able to both earn an income and send a powerful message discounting the societal belief that they are helpless and useless. The second pillar of his work relies on public awareness and advocacy campaigns, wherein Sani aims to change popular misconceptions about PLHIV and to break down the widespread and harmful prejudices that lead to their mental and physical isolation. By engaging the government and health sectors, Sani hopes to ensure greater access to basic social and economic rights for PLHIV. Specifically, he aims to improve the quality of medical treatment for PLHIV and make treatment more accessible.