Link Up, a sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) project led by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, has reached more than 500,000 young people since it began in 2013.
The project, which is implemented in partnership with several global SRHR and HIV organisations is on track to reach one million young people in five countries across Africa and Asia by July next year.
The organisations which deliver and support Link Up recently came together at an African regional meeting in Entebbe, Uganda. Delegates discussed progress against their targets and the challenges they have faced so far. They also looked at learning and best practice in planning for the project as it enters its third and final year.
Georgina Caswell, regional advisor for Link Up, said: Young people in Link Up have collaborated with partners to drive innovation in the project. This has included the production of rights-based and creative health promotion materials, and trainings with service providers and policymakers aimed at addressing attitudes towards key populations affected by HIV. They have also advocated at district level to increase resources for adolescent and youth-friendly services. Young people’s visible leadership in the project has both expanded young people’s access to a wide range of SRHR and HIV services and contributed to reducing stigma experienced by young people living with and most affected by HIV.
Cultural challenges in Burundi
In Burundi, Link Up is the largest programme providing sexual and reproductive health education and services to young people most affected by HIV, including young people living with HIV, young people who sell sex, and young men who have sex with men. Alliance Burundaise Contre le SIDA et pour la promotion de la Sante (ABS) and its partners, including youth networks and organisations, have already exceeded their target of reaching 17,500 young people in the community, informing them about health services and encouraging them to use them. These include integrated family planning, STI and HIV services.
While Link Up in Burundi has reached its target, this has not been easy due to cultural challenges. Examples include young women needing to seek consent from relatives to use family planning services, and men who have sex with men fearing discrimination under the law.
Cedric Nininahazwe from RNJ+, a youth network and implementing partner in Link Up in Burundi, said: We have seen some progress among young people living with HIV who are more empowered, visible, engaged in education activities and reaching their peers in communities and facilities in order to ensure they receive services they want and need.
Community role models in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, Link Up aims to reach 140,000 young people affected by HIV and encourage them to access health and information services. It will be approaching this target by the end of this year. It has educated and trained more than 1,735 young peer educators, parents and local leaders as role models, exceeding its target in this area.
The role models identify and talk to young people about relationships, including issues of gender and sexuality, subjects that are considered taboo within their community. They also play a critical role in helping young people find solutions to any problems they may be facing. Link Up Ethiopia has also trained members of community-based organisations and service providers on sexual and reproductive health and rights issues which affect young people so that they are sensitive and responsive to the needs of young people.
Daniel Gudeta, Project Coordinator at the Organization for Support Services for AIDS (OSSA), the Alliance Linking Organisation leading Link Up in Ethiopia, said: Getting community buy-in is important for the sustainability of projects; and an excellent example we have is that our government gave land to one of the branches of OSSA to provide services for street children long after the project ended.
Creative models of service delivery in Uganda
In Uganda, Link Up aims to reach 275,000 young people affected by HIV, increasing their access to family planning, STI and HIV information and services. The project had reached 171,190 young people in community settings by March 2015 and is on track to reach its target by next year July.
Link Up partners in Uganda have employed a number of creative strategies in order to reach young people and offer them services. These include: training peer educators from specific populations of young people to reach their peers with information and to refer them to services; providing peer educators with stipends that they can use to accompany peers to health facilities to make sure they are comfortable and get the services they need; taking services to young people through clinical outreach, including the use of four tuk tuks (tricycles) that carry a range of family planning, STI and HIV commodities; supporting youth camps so young people can have fun and at the same time learn about their health and access services on the spot, if they would like them; and involving young people in developing colourful and appealing health promotion campaigns, such as Uganda’s Stay on top of your game campaign, which comes with leaflets, wristbands, posters and even a jingle.
Jacquelyne Alesi, executive director of the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV, said: Link Ups legacy will be the many young people who have contributed to the programme as peer educators, counsellors in facilities, advocates for the health and rights of young people and researchers in their communities. Through the project, we have developed new skills, which we will continue to apply in Link Up and beyond as we aim for quality and comprehensive services for all.