How to prevent HIV? Talk to young people
There has never been a more challenging time to be a young person living with HIV, a young man who has sex with other men, a young transgender person, or a young person who engages in selling sex or using drugs. “We see more and more governments taking action to enforce existing or draft new punitive laws. This places the sexual health of millions of young people at even greater risk” says Mike Podmore, Policy Manager at the Alliance.
We believe that young people living with HIV have the right to lead healthy lives and be active in the policy debates that will determine their futures. That is why the Alliance is working with our consortium partners in the Link Up project to create space for young people to document the barriers they face when they try to access HIV and sexual and reproductive health services. Crucially, we then support those young people so they can contribute their ideas, enthusiasm and imagination to solving global health challenges.
The stakes are high
Forty-three percent of the world’s population is under 25. This is the largest generation of young people and adolescents in history ever to enter sexual and reproductive life. But they face significant challenges including HIV, STIs, adolescent pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and gender-based violence. Mike Podmore, Policy Manager at the Alliance, says: “Young people need easy access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning. Stigma and discrimination based on age, gender, HIV status and sexual orientation needs to be wiped out. Only by doing this will we meet the goals for sexual and reproductive health and rights set out in the 1994 Programme of Action.”
"Nobody can have a better voice than youth themselves. They are the ones who know their issues and ways to deal with them.”
Part of the challenge is how little we know about the extent to which young people have access to quality services; though the rates of HIV infection and number of adolescent pregnancies and abortions tell their own story. That is why in 2013, Link Up consortium members the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA) and the ATHENA Network led a consultation with 400 young people living with and affected by HIV. Through a global on-line survey and series of community dialogues in Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi, Bangladesh and Myanmar, we learnt about the experiences of young people accessing health services, and their visions for the future.
"Nobody can have a better voice than youth themselves. They are the ones who know their issues and ways to deal with them,” says a young woman, from Asia and the Pacific region.
“When I got pregnant, people from social services and sometimes the doctor were always asking me embarrassing questions like why I’m not ashamed or how will I feed by baby, and I decided not to go back again. Three months after, I gave up and I went back because I realised that my life and my baby were in danger,” says a young woman living with HIV, in Burundi.
We want to make young people even more visible. A key focus of the Link Up project is operational research in Uganda and Bangladesh to identify the most promising strategies for improving access to quality services for this group of young people. This work is being led by the Population Council.
Giving young people a voice
2014 presents many opportunities for youth to engage in mainstream development debates. Over the coming months, the biggest global health story will be the debate on the post-2015 agenda; that is, the framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire in 2015.
We are providing a whole raft of opportunities for a new generation of youth advocates to make their voices heard. We supported Hajjarah Nagadya, a young woman living with HIV from Uganda to attend the 58th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. You can read her account of this experience in a blog published on the Women Deliver site.
At the UN-led Commission on Population and Development (CPD), Link Up consortium partners trained a group of 25 youth advocates to give them the tools and confidence they need to influence their respective governments to prioritise youth sexual and reproductive health and rights. Jennifer Bushee, Senior Advisor, Gender and SRHR at STOP AIDS NOW! said, “Our ultimate goal is a robust post-2015 development framework that protects the HIV and sexual and reproductive health needs and rights of all young people, and that young people in all their diversity have been involved in developing it.”