Link Up aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of more than one million young people most affected by HIV and to promote the realisation of their SRH rights.
At Women Deliver 2013 this week, two key partners for the Link Up project, the ATHENA Network and the Global Youth Coalition (GYCA) on HIV/AIDS, met with young people from different parts of the world on a range of issues that affect them when it comes to services for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV.
Funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Link Up aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of more than one million young people most affected by HIV and to promote the realisation of their SRH rights. This is a three year programme to improve the integration of SRH interventions into existing community facility-based HIV programming and vice versa in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda.
According to Felicia Wong from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance which is leading the Link Up consortium of international and national NGOs: “This intervention is different from others because it builds on what exists already in those countries and we are working with partners who have existing global and national networks of young people like GYCA, Athena, Marie Stopes International, Population Council and STOP AIDS NOW. We are integrating SRHR and HIV and the focus of this is to provide youth friendly services, but we are also looking at the most vulnerable groups like young people affected by HIV, sex workers and men who have sex with men”.
Julie Mellin from GYCA told the young people present: “We are building up on what exists already to reach young people, especially those affected by HIV and we hope to improve service delivery in the five countries but we also expect country to country learning to come about through the Link Up project”.
Other key issues to be addressed by Link Up in addition to HIV include sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancy, physical and sexual violence, and unsafe abortions.
Edith Mukisa, the executive director of Community Health Alliance Uganda said: “The young people who are affected by HIV need to be reached in order for their voices to be heard. It is very important that the most at risk groups are reached so as to reduce the transmission of HIV in the world and there are two things we are talking about – HIV and sexual and reproductive health services and rights for young people.”
A number of young people attending the Women Deliver conference in Malaysia welcomed the Link Up project.
According to Taiwo Adesoba from Nigeria: “Such a service with integration is good because we young people may not know where to get this or that service. So when sexual and reproductive health and HIV services are integrated in one place, we can get everything all at once and faster.”
Foluso Ichola from Nigeria noted that: “It is better to get SRH and HIV services in one place because in some cases when young people are referred to go and get a service, they may fail, not because they do not want it but because they get caught up by other things and forget. Sometimes some facilities in place are not user friendly for young people and they feel threatened because it is a hostile environment”.
Magezi Bashir from the Wakiso Muslim Youth Development Foundation in Uganda said: ”Sometimes interventions bring in young people as an afterthought. As long as Link Up can come down to the young people and involve all – irrespective of gender,religion or sex – then a lot will be realized. Young people are quite busy and an intervention that looks at young people’s needs must be very committed to their cause.”
Julie Mellin from GYCA indicated that they have already developed an online questionnaire to get information from young people globally about issues that affect them. Through community mobilisation, Link Up will also amplify the voices of young people most affected by HIV in national and global advocacy forums to ensure that global policy processes address the needs of young people, their rights and aspirations. An operational research component is also being implemented to document innovative approaches to integration in the different epidemiological contexts. The project is expected to offer tremendous potential for effective interagency and south to south knowledge sharing and learning.