Involve us or nothing changes: Young people’s sexual health in Burundi

Sexual health,  Burundi

‘Young people must be engaged in the integration of HIV services and sexual and reproductive health rights or nothing changes’. This is the strong message coming from young people at a discussion in Burundi as part of the Link Up project.

In Burundi, young boys and girls are missing out on access to many HIV prevention programmes. The situation particularly affects young sex workers, people living with HIV and men who have sex with men, mainly because of local cultural beliefs and understandings about sex and sexuality. Gaps often exist between services for HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). So a project called Link Up involving organisations in five countries - Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda – is bridging this gap by strengthening organisations to tackle the problem locally. 

Local training

As part of the project, Alliance Burundaise Contre le SIDA (ABS) and their 15 partner organisations have received training about how to link services around HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights. This is known as the ‘101 integration’ training package and involved building organisational and staff capacity in a number of areas.  

ABS staff took part in a workshop to reflect on key concepts such as youth participation, human rights, sexual rights, gender-based violence and entry points for integrating HIV services and SRHR. Jeanne d’Arc is the Link Up Coordinator and integration expert. She shares her views about the training:

“The training was based on an excellent guide - developed specifically for this project - that was easy to use with very practical and easy exercises that allow you to collect a lot of information. The guide allows people to talk and to be open, including sharing what is really inside them. With the exercises, some of these things come out openly, including things that are difficult to talk about culturally. The workshop inspired me a lot, especially in terms of the exchanges with young men who have sex with men (MSM). I was touched by the film, which was screened and how the rights of MSM are violated in my own country.”

“We also had a panel discussion with young people. One young person said, ‘We are tired, we have always asked for things to be done and nothing happens. So now we don’t ask for anything. We are telling you to pay attention: young people MUST be engaged in the integration of SRHR and HIV services or else nothing changes.’ We heard the young people loudly and clearly.”

Put in practice

ABS started implementing Link Up activities in August 2013. Young people who are living with HIV, sex workers and MSM have been trained as peer educators. They share information, offer counselling, and distribute condoms and lubricants.
The project also supports two key population networks: RNJ+ (YPLHIV) and Humure (MSM). They are young leaders and strategic partners, who will work with ABS and the partners across all project activities.

In the coming months, ABS will work with the Ministry of Health to adapt the state-run training for peer educators so it is more rights-based and specifically addresses the needs of young key populations.

Link Up in five countries

Link Up is taking place in five countries: Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda and aims to improve the sexual health of young people most affected by HIV and to promote sexual and reproductive health rights. The 101 Integration training along with other packages of support around finance, monitoring and evaluation will strengthen local organisations to tackle the problem of how to integrate HIV services and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Read more about Link Up here.

This project is being implemented by a consortium of partners led by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.
Link Up allFunded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the government of the Netherlands (BUZA).  

© Gideon Mendel for the Alliance

"The workshop inspired me a lot, especially in terms of the exchanges with young men who have sex with men (MSM)."

— Jeanne