A consortium of international and national nongovernmental organisations led by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance today announced the launch of Link Up, an ambitious five country programme which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people living with and affected by HIV in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda.
An estimated five million young people aged 15-24 live with HIV. However, the majority of SRHR/HIV programmes overlook young people, particularly from marginalised groups, instead focusing on adults living with HIV or on women of reproductive age.
Funded by the Government of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken or BUZA) through its SRHR fund, Link Up will prevent unintended pregnancies, HIV transmission and HIV-related maternal mortality among young people living with and affected by HIV.
Over the course of three years, Link Up will reach more than one million young people aged 10-24, focusing on those most affected by or at higher risk of HIV including young women and men living with HIV, male and female sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people, in order to improve their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
According to Divya Bajpai, the Alliance’s senior advisor on sexual and reproductive health: “This is a fantastic opportunity to implement tailored and integrated HIV and SRHR interventions to increase uptake and access which will lead to lower rates of HIV incidence, unintended pregnancy, maternal mortality and sexually transmitted infections as well as provide greater social protection and guidance for vulnerable young people.”
She continued: “In many countries the rights of young women living with HIV to start a family and to make informed choices about family planning and maternal health are simply not recognised. Link Up will make a major contribution to the integration of sexual and reproductive health and rights with HIV services in the five project countries and beyond.”
In Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda, Link Up will work to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights are integrated into existing HIV services for young men and women, including those living with HIV, and vice versa. In these settings, young people especially girls are highly vulnerable to HIV and there are high rates of unintended pregnancies and maternal mortality.
In Bangladesh and Myanmar, information and services will be tailored to meet the needs of vulnerable groups living with or most at risk of HIV in order to overcome barriers to access such as stigma, discrimination and fear of arrest.
In addition, Link Up will advocate for legislative reforms and work to influence the political landscape to advance the rights of marginalised young people, in particular those who sell sex, are living with HIV or in same-sex relationships, who are often unable to safely access, use and benefit from appropriate user friendly information and services.
Link Up draws on the experience of a consortium of international organisations as well as on the strengths of national implementing partners and is led by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance which has a strong track record in promoting the integration of HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights work through its programming and policy. The five other international partners are ATHENA Network, The Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA), Marie Stopes International, Population Council and STOP AIDS NOW!