“We are not ‘good for nothing’ youth”

By Syrus Ajuna

Syrus Ajuna is a passionate activist for the Uganda Harm Reduction Network and project coordinator for the Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV Response (PITCH).

As ICASA 2017 gets under way, Syrus urges African governments to include key population communities in their efforts towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As a former drug user, I am passionate about advocating for positive social change and enabling key population communities to take charge of the issues that affect them.

We started the Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN) in 2008 to respond to the drug use crisis in Uganda. We now consist of more than 1,000 people who use drugs and 25 organisations led by people who use drugs. We are a youth-led movement, and are made up of a diverse group of people, including sex workers and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

<p>There are only two methadone facilities in Kenya's Coast province and Winnie Nyawira, 32, travels from Watamu to Malindi every day to recieve her medication.</p>
<p>"Methadone isn&rsquo;t sweet to the taste, and its reactions are as strong as any other drug. But those who are determined to arrest drug use must brave it to the very end. Two years of methadone is easier than a life time in drug-use."</p>
<p>Winner is a mother of a 18-year-old boy and says that she is proud that she brought up her son even though she was using drugs.</p>
<p>"My son is one of my reason to quit drugs."</p>
<p><span style="font-size: 13px;"><span style="background-color: white;">&nbsp;</span></span></p>Winnie Nyawira, 32, takes methadone in Malindi, Kenya © Corrie Wingate for the Alliance 2017

The UHRN is here to push the harm reduction agenda in national programming of HIV, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We do this so that people who use drugs receive services that actually meet their prevention needs.

Our work contributes to different SDGs: we strongly advocate for accessible health services for people who use drugs and do advocacy at different levels. We empower grassroots communities to influence policies. Through the PITCH Programme, we have been able to establish collaborative working relationships with important actors such as the Ugandan Parliamentary Committee on HIV/AIDS, the Uganda AIDS Commission and the Anti-Narcotics Department of the Police. We have done this by documenting and sharing our testimonies, bringing the realities of people who use drugs to many in positons of power.

Despite this progress, negative attitude amongst some policy makers and other duty bearers, fuelled by stigma and discrimination, puts barriers in our way. Politicians and religious leaders in some districts refuse to meet us. We are turned away without any real explanation; deemed as ‘good for nothing youth’.

But we are far more than that. At UHRN we work hard to contribute to different SDGs and there is a very urgent need to increase support for organisations such as ours. The active participation of all communities is crucial in order to achieve tangible outcomes by 2030.

To meet the SDGs we need to have more and better investment mechanisms in community-led organisations to ensure organisations such as ours become financially sustainable and have the technical capacities to sustain the impact of our work.

In Uganda, communities have not been included in government efforts around the SDGs. Because of this, there is very limited awareness among many people from key populations on the 2030 development agenda and minimal representation of communities in key decision making fora at national, regional and global level. This situation must change.

At the PITCH satellite session today, I will speak out on and share evidence which shows that key populations continue to bear a disproportionately high burden of HIV infections and the gains that could be made if our voices were listened to.

We risk lose the battle in fighting HIV and AIDS if we don’t put key population communities at the centre of the response – and unless we all work together we will be far from reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

At ICASA, PITCH is calling on African governments and their development partners to invest in community action and stop violence against communities in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Please read and share the English version or French version of the Call on social media to show your support using #CommunitySDGs.