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“The Stories Behind the Statistics” is a series we developed for the Gates Foundation blog, “Impatient Optimists.” The following post is the second in our three-part series on contraception. The original post, located on “Impatient Optimists,” is available here. Primrose Nanchani Manyalo is a field officer at Restless Development, a youth-led development agency.

No matter where you live in the world, contraceptive access is essential to the sexual and reproductive health of young people. This is also true of young people in Zimbabwe, where I live and work. My experiences with young people in this country have taught me that they face numerous challenges in trying to access contraceptives and the repercussions young people deal with when they can’t: teen pregnancies, unsafe abortions, death due to child birth, and HIV/STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

At Restless Development, a youth-led organization to address the most urgent issues facing young people around the world, we have set up youth-friendly corners and centers around Zimbabwe (the country where I’m from and in which I work) that are a haven for young people who need services. These services include providing access to condoms, and offering ways to meaningfully engage in advocacy about the reproductive health and rights of young people. At one of the youth-friendly corners we run, young people tell us that contraceptives are available at the local pharmacies and clinics. These include morning after pills, barrier methods, implants and other hormonal methods. Nevertheless, there are still many hindrances that lead to the overall unavailability of contraceptives among young people in Zimbabwe.

Young people in the city of Harare say they cannot walk into a pharmacy or clinic and purchase or request contraceptives because they think providers will feel that “they are still too young.” Others revealed that they fear being laughed at by their peers or treated as outcasts in their community because they “shamefully indulged in sex before marriage.”  These psychological and social barriers are further exacerbated by provider bias, cultural barriers, the high cost of contraceptives at private pharmacies, and a lack of youth-friendly services.

Natsai, one of our youth group members, told us she could not speak openly about contraceptives with her peers, teachers, or parents. When she became pregnant at 16, her mother took her to the clinic to get the hormonal IUD (a type of contraceptive), which would prevent her from becoming pregnant again until she was at least 23. Though the move was noble, it came too late.  If the contraceptive service had come earlier, it would have prevented her from becoming pregnant at such a young age, dropping out of school, being rejected by her boyfriend, and living with the psychological trauma that comes with motherhood at an early age.

Finally, some young people in my community decide not to use contraceptives because of myths they’ve heard and misconceptions about how contraception works. Some young people believe that if you use contraceptives you will not be able to bear children later on. Clearly, there is a need to educate young people about contraception.

Having contraceptive access and choice is a basic health right. If contraceptive access is realized, some of the appalling sexual and reproductive health challenges faced by young people, particularly by girls and young women, will be addressed.  Efforts to ensure contraceptive access for young people, coupled with provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, can help young people make healthier and informed choices about their lives.

Finally, advocacy efforts should address not only issues of access, but also young people’s need for youth-friendly and affordable services provided by nonjudgmental health care workers. Policy-makers, donors, young people, and other relevant stakeholders should work together to develop policies and strategies to improve access to contraceptives and other sexual and reproductive health services for young people in Zimbabwe.  By also addressing societal attitudes, and cultural barriers we could go a long way in protecting young people’s lives.

You can help Restless Development empower the youth of Zimbabwe. Learn more and share with your friends and family.

“The Stories Behind the Statistics” is a series we developed for the Gates Foundation blog, “Impatient Optimists.” The following post is the second in our three-part series on contraception. The original post, located on “Impatient Optimists,” is available here. Max Kamin-Cross is a self-proclaimed political junky and youth activist

There is one action that we, as a world population, could take today to change our future more than any other single action.

We could lift millions of people of all races and both genders out of poverty throughout the world. By doing this action, we could significantly decrease the number of premature deaths, as well as the number of lives claimed by deadly infections like HIV. Accessibility to food and medications for people living in developing countries would increase, and the quality of life for millions more people would be drastically improved. This single action, if done in conjunction with the major governments of the world, would complete all of this and more. The action: improving access to contraceptives.

More than 700,000 women and newborns die every year during or shortly after birth of an unintended pregnancy. While contraceptive access can be a controversial topic here in the United States, where I live, other developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, have realized that this is an international health issue. In some developing regions, more than 60 percent of young women report that they lack proper access to contraception that they would like to use. If that number were in the single digits, our world would be a much different place. Women would be able to put off childbirth until they were both emotionally and financially ready. They would also be able to plan the spacing of their children and the size of their family, increasing their chances of rising out of poverty. Adequate access to condoms would also greatly reduce a young woman’s chances of being infected with HIV.

Contraception isn’t cheap, not by a long shot. Data from the Center for American Progress suggest a woman in the United States can expect to pay well over $10,000 in her lifetime for contraception.

If she doesn’t have insurance for all or even just part of her life, that cost quickly comes closer to $70,000. This overwhelming burden can hurt the people who need birth control most: impoverished women and young people. In almost every country in the world there is a growing, and unmet, need for low-cost contraception.

This issue should not be controversial. The future of my generation truly may rely on the fate of contraceptive access.

This post was written by Ivens Reyner, a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Brazil and originally appeared on the Youth Coalition blog.

Rio+20, is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The conference will take place in Brazil June 20-22, 2012 and will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context eradicating poverty through sustainable development; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.

On the road to Rio+20, the negotiations for an outcome document are almost at an end, but still, we need to ensure that the outcome of the negotiations really reflect the needs of people around the world, particularly young people. In the Rio+20 process, we cannot forget that this whole process is about people, about our rights, our wellbeing, and our needs. To speak about sustainable development is also to speak about human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, especially for young people and adolescents.  

What are the implications?

Young people today account for 1.8 billion people between 15 and 25 years old.  Sexual and reproductive rights and health are fundamental for young people and are fundamental to sustainable development. If young people do not have access to sexual and reproductive health services and information they need, they will be less likely to have a healthy life, which will affect their ability to stay in school and find a job. This will contribute to the growing amount of unemployed youth. Also, If governments do not take measures to end gender inequality, women, particularly young women and girls, will continue to lack the power and independence they need to make informed decisions, continue their studies and to have a healthy life.

Why now?  

Twenty years ago the Earth Summit in Rio triggered a series of global conferences that promoted a rights-based agenda to development, health, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Almost 20 years later, young people have high expectations for the reviews of the Rio+20, International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) processes. During the review of these processes, young people expect major commitments to be made, which will have considerable impact on young people at the national level. As a launching off point for the review of the ICPD and MDG processes, the Rio+20 outcome must address young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services as fundamental in the context of sustainable development, in addition to the empowerment of young women and girls in all spheres of society.

With a strengthened and comprehensive Rio+20 outcome document, which recognizes the rights of young people, especially those of young women and girls, the agendas of the ICPD program of action and Beijing platform for action can only be strengthened. It is therefore unacceptable that the Rio+20 Summit mark a step back in young people’s rights, our access to information and services. Young people cannot afford to have our rights ignored, nor our access to information and services.

The sexual and reproductive rights community needs to strengthen its engagement in the Rio+20 process. We need to work together. We urge you to see this as a call for support to sexual and reproductive rights organizations to consider the impact that Rio+20 will have.

Looking towards the RIO+20 Summit

Today, almost 80% of young people live in the developing countries. Our strength is in our numbers and our joint commitment to ensuring a sustainable future for all. It is therefore essential that young people are supported to participate meaningfully in international decision-making spaces. It is particularly essential that young people from the Global South are supported to attend the Rio+20 summit, specifically as members of their official country delegations. To effectively give young people a space that reflects their diverse needs, is fundamental, especially when discussing a framework that will determine our futures.

Let us work together to make sure that the Rio+20 Summit guarantees our rights, the rights of young women, girls, and all people. Sustainable development is about us, it is about our rights.

To find out more about the intersections between youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and sustainable development, watch this short video. 

Get GREEN! The RIO+20 Summit & Youth Sexual and Reproductive Rights from Youth Coalition on Vimeo.

This is an excerpt of a post originally published on the IPPF blog, The Bikini, and was written by David Lawrence, a youth author from YSafe. The entire post can be accessed here.

Each year there is a different theme for the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) meeting, and the outcome document that advises countries on their strategies for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) service provision is tailored to this theme. This year the theme is “Adolescents and Youth.”

Historically, lots of decisions surrounding SRHR have been made by adults and older people, despite the fact that these decisions have a huge impact upon young people. It’s great that this year we are focusing on how SRHR services can be more tailored to young people. Even more impressive is the number of young advocates who are attending this year’s CPD.

Oftentimes there are criticisms of youth involvement in these high-level decision making processes: it can feel that we are just there in a tokenistic sense. So, it’s great to see young people facilitating sessions, contributing to discussions, and ensuring that our voices are not only heard, but also acted upon.

The morning the CPD officially began, delegates from around the globe entered the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to discuss the future of SRHR and how countries can best implement the Programme of Action (POA) that was formulated in Cairo in 1994. For the first time in recent memory, CPD was attended by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, whose speech opened the proceedings by applauding the large number of youth delegates in attendance this year.

Given that there is clearly a great deal of work left to do in this extremely important field, there is a large amount of talk about a new stage in SRHR and development known as “ICPD+20 and beyond.” The United Nations and its member countries need to evaluate the successes and shortcomings of the POA and decide on a future direction. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is conducting a global survey to help determine what the CPD process will look like after 2014. This survey aims to find out what countries are doing to implement the POA and look at how their efforts could be improved in order to ensure all people are able to attain their sexual and reproductive health.

All of this talk is wonderful and it shows that the community is still committed to implementing the POA. However, young people want some assurance that the CPD process will not just continue for another 20 years.  We want action and a sense of urgency from member states and civil society. We want real, concrete movements that will ensure that the POA is met sooner rather than later.

What is also very timely about this year’s CPD convening is that other big development programs, such as the Millennium Development Goals, are coming to the end of their term. Consequently, there is a whole new global development agenda being formulated. At this extremely important time for our world, we need to ensure that the outcome documents of this year’s CPD, and CPDs to come, are strong and will guarantee an increased focus on young people and their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

This is the third and final post of our Gates Foundation series, “The Stories Behind the Statistics.” The following was originally posted on the Gates Foundation Blog, “Impatient Optimists” and is available here.

Jaevion Nelson is the executive director of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN).

Last August, during World Youth Day in Madrid, I was conducting outreach to encourage Catholic youth to use condoms. It was there that I heard one of the most frightening things ever: One young man told me that an HIV-positive person had no right to have sex.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard such disparaging comments about people living with HIV. Shocking as it was, this conversation was instructive. It reinforced the importance of the work my colleagues and I have been doing alongside a number of organizations worldwide, particularly Advocates for Youth, in speaking out for the more than 215 million women and girls who face an unmet need for modern contraception and the 16.5 million women of reproductive age who are living with HIV.

Worldwide, too many young people are still being denied access to essential services and commodities such as modern contraception, condoms, and HIV treatment.

As I’ve seen through my outreach and advocacy in Jamaica, the heartrending thing here hasn’t been so much a matter of limited funding. Rather, as young people, our access is too often restricted on the basis of inadequate and ideology-driven programs, policies, and laws.

It’s almost as if the existing data about our needs—even when the evidence stares policy makers right in their faces―are irrelevant. 

Within this context, women and girls and young people living with HIV are severely and disproportionally impacted. They aren’t provided the resources they need to avoid HIV transmission, prevent unintended pregnancies, and plan desired pregnancies. Just as important, they aren’t respected as central stakeholders in their own health care outcomes—as change agents that can help transform their communities for the better.

Worldwide, too many young people are still being denied access to essential HIV services and care, free from stigma.

Ultimately, the reproductive health needs of young people living with HIV aren’t so unique. After you factor in our age, sexual orientation, location, income, and HIV status, we all want to have the same things. Young people living with HIV want access to friendly services that are free from stigma just as much as the young person who is not HIV-positive, and just as much as the adult for whom policies around reproductive health are usually more favorable.

Stigma and discrimination make things needlessly complex for a young person living with HIV. While I have met a number of young people who have been bold enough to demand resources on the local and governmental levels, many others are too dis-empowered to do so. I have seen too many young girls scoffed at (at health clinics, no less) because of an unplanned pregnancy―and the discrimination is almost always exacerbated when these young people are HIV-positive.

Why must we be so cruel? It costs nothing to respect people living with HIV. It takes no effort to show compassion. We aren’t so naïve. Why should we continue to deny young people living with HIV the right to live happy, healthy lives like everyone else? We all have to play our part in advancing the rights, welfare, and dignity of young people living with HIV.

This is the second post of our Gates Foundation series, “The Stories Behind the Statistics.” The following was originally posted on the Gates Foundation Blog, “Impatient Optimists” and is available here.

Catherine Gathoni works at K-Note as a field officer in the prevention program where she leads a support group for mothers ages 12-19, in Kenya.

I lead a support group for mothers ages 12-19, in Kenya. Most of the mothers I work with are out-of-school youth; many live on the streets, work in the informal economy, or are orphaned. As a part of our support program, we provide weekly peer-to-peer sessions focusing on uptake of antenatal care, child welfare, family planning services, post-rape care, and antiretroviral therapy.  The support groups for the adolescent mothers are formed to provide social support and reduce stigma.

The majority of the girls who get pregnant at this age never plan the pregnancies. Most of the unplanned pregnancies are a result of transactional sex; sexual and gender-based violence, including rape and incest; or alcohol and substance abuse. Many of these girls have grown up in challenging family environments, and within their communities early pregnancies are often accepted as normal.

I remember one girl telling me that when she visited a clinic, the nurses told her that family planning services were for women not girls, and if they provided her with these services it would be equal to them permitting her to go have sex.

It can be very hard for a young woman to receive family planning information or contraceptives. There are many myths and misconceptions in our community about contraceptives, and many girls do not know about the services available for pregnancy prevention.  Those who do know about the services are often afraid of being judged by health care workers. 

Many health service providers are hesitant to offer these services to girls less than 21 years old who do not yet have children.  I remember one girl telling me that when she visited a clinic, the nurses told her that family planning services were for women not girls, and if they provided her with these services it would be equal to them permitting her to go have sex.  It is this sort of judgment that often prevents young women from seeking reproductive health services.

Without access to family planning services, many young women end up unintentionally pregnant. 

When “Shiro” first came to our group she looked like a 9-year-old. She asked me to take her to the hospital; she said she had stopped going to school after developing vaginal discharge that would wet her dress and make pupils ridicule her. An examination and some tests established that she had not only contracted an STI (sexually transmitted disease), but she was also pregnant. She did not seem to comprehend what this meant. She only wanted to get treated so that she could go back to school.

“Shiro” never went back to school and currently works in an illegal liquor den.

Life is very challenging for adolescent mothers. Often they are unable to secure a meaningful source of income and end up working in illegal liquor dens, as sand harvesters, or as sex workers. Or they marry very early.

One young woman in my support group, “Rozie,” is 18 years old. She has never admitted to being involved in sex work but will occasionally mention having slept with someone in exchange of cash or food. This is sometimes the only means she has to feed her two sons, whom she lives with on the street.   Sometimes when I am working with girls like Rozie, I feel totally helpless.

Making family planning and pregnancy prevention services more accessible would greatly improve the lives of girls. They would get to have an education, escape becoming involved in sex work, and avoid HIV infection. We need interventions to reduce their vulnerability, empower them to take charge of their own health, and allow them to become economically independent.  The needs of adolescent girls are serious and pressing but currently they are not being addressed.

John Mwikwabe, a peer educator with the Kenya Red Cross Naivasha Sub Branch, interviewed Celestine Ndege, a fellow peer educator, about what it’s like living with HIV and how her status affects her work.

Celestine Ndege during a Red Cross counseling and testing outreach

I first met Celestine Ndege in 2008, which was about the time Kenya was trying to accommodate the masses of internally displaced people, at one of the camps in Naivasha. We were both volunteers with Kenya Red Cross; she was volunteering under the Health Department and I was a volunteer in charge of warehouse and relief.

Since that time, much remains the same: Celeste is still creating awareness on various health issues, educating people about HIV, visiting support groups, talking to couples about various health issues, and counseling. She lives in Gilgil District but her work takes her across the country. 

Celestine is a mother of two daughters.  She is very strong-willed, and her determination has made her a great inspiration to both the young and to the community at large. There is one thing that makes her special apart from being an agent of change in her community: she has been living with HIV for the past 10 years.  She has managed to live a very positive life regardless of her status and only started using ARVs a month ago after her doctor advised her to do so.

As long as I’ve known her, she has never had any problems revealing her status to the public; she speaks out about it and shares her experience with anyone who lends her an ear.  We have engaged her in most of our counseling and testing initiatives through theater, life skills seminars, HIV and AIDS initiatives, and as a counselor.

Celestine Ndege during a Red Cross counseling and testing outreach

When I approached her about sharing her story on this blog, I had no doubt that she would be thrilled about it, and I was not wrong. We wanted to share her story so that people living with HIV and AIDS would be inspired to know that it is not the end of the world. We also hope that Celeste’s story will encourage people to stop stigmatizing those who are living with HIV and AIDS.  And finally, we hope that those who do not know their status will gain the courage to get tested, with the knowledge that whatever the results are, they can also deal with their status and live a long life.

I had a chance to ask her the following questions.

How long have you known you are HIV positive?

Celestine: For the past 10 years. I have lived a healthy life taking into consideration that I just recently started using the ARVs this year due to some health issues.

How did you discover that you were HIV positive?

Celestine: I used to have a recurring history of STIs, and every time I got one, I would get some medication for them. One day, though, I decided to go for testing and actually learn my HIV status. I had a rough marriage then, and my husband wasn’t the trusting type so I decided to get tested for my sake and the sake of my family. So one day, after a long discussion with myself, I got up and visited a VCT center, and that is how I found out.

Why did you decide to disclose your HIV status?

Celestine: After going through all the stages of depression, denial and anger, I realized that keeping it to myself would somehow lead to self destruction. So I decided to share my story, and of course it was not easy. Doing so was perhaps the hardest thing that I have been faced with.  Stigmatization was high in Gilgil and the whole country, so you can imagine how this would have an impact in my life. But I decided that since I had the infection, I had an opportunity to bridge the gap in the way people perceived things and this was that moment. I saw this as one part of my healing process, so I decided to share my status with the world.

How did your first disclosure happen? Was it voluntary, coerced, planned, unplanned? Did someone disclose your status –with or without your consent?

Celestine: The first time I disclosed my status, it was scary and a little embarrassing but I did it willingly. I was not sure how to do it. My husband had been against going to the VCT to get tested. I recall during that time we had been in a quarrel and I had gone to stay with my sister.  I asked him to go with me toNakuruPark for an outing, and that was when I told him I told him.

As for my kids, they came to find out in a way that I had not planned for. We had a fight with my husband and he blurted it out during our confrontation; my son heard him say that I was HIV positive. My son would later ask me what his dad meant by that and I had to tell him. I had been struggling with the thought of telling them what was happening and that was not how I had hoped I would tell them.

Why did you decide to become a peer educator?

Celestine: Well, I went through a lot in my early years with this infection: emotionally, physically, mentally, my whole life was changed by all of this. My friends looked at me differently; the society (then) did not accept me. My husband has never gotten around to accepting me. I still get stigmatization in my own home from my husband. I had two kids, and all of the sudden life had to be different. I gained strength from close friends and from getting the right information on how to deal with the infection; I am sure that these are the reasons that I am here.  So I thought of my peers, those who are younger than me or even older. I thought about the type of hardships they are going through and how myths and beliefs and misconceptions have contributed to their stigmatization.  And I decided I had a story to share and people to reach out to.  The problems I went through…I would not wish them on anyone, and I wanted to be a source of information and solace.

Do you think your HIV status affects your work as a peer educator either positively or negatively? If so how?

Celestine: Definitely positively. People need to see and hear things they can relate to, and by sharing my story, I empower the youths with information from a real case scenario of how a person lives with HIV and AIDS. By being positive myself and speaking freely with them, I am always sure that I will have their full attention.

What are your greatest peer education successes?

Celestine: Since I publicly shared my status, more youths have had the courage to get tested. Some who test positive know better how to deal with their current situation. That has been a source of strength for me—knowing that revealing my status has brought about positive change among the youths and my peers.

What have you learned from the young people you work with? What do they see as their biggest challenges?

Celestine: The youths who I work with have accepted my status and they have acknowledged that status does not define a person…that it’s how you live and what you do that define you. But the biggest challenge is that not all of them want to disclose their status or even talk about it; this makes it hard to form a youth support group for those living with HIV.

Many young people are effectively using social media to bring attention to youth sexual and reproductive health (YSRH). To celebrate young people and their advocacy efforts, we are announcing the IYWG’s 2011 social media champions.

The 2011 IYWG social media champions are young people who successfully use social media to advocate for YSRH and actively contribute to IYWG social media activities. Our social media champions will help us to spread the word about our involvement in this year’s International Conference on Family Planning inDakar,Senegal.  Please read each our first champion’s bio below and check our blog for daily updates from Dakar.

 Our first champion is Max Kamin-Cross. Max  is a consultant and writer.  He is on the Planned Parenthood Young Leaders Advisory Council and is an Education Ambassador for MTV’s It’s Your (Sex) Life program.  Max is the Advocacy writer for Scarleteen.com and lobbies on both state and national levels for equal access healthcare and reproductive rights.  He is a senior at Pittsford Mendon High School and can be reached at Max.Kamin.Cross@gmail.com or on Twitter at @MaxKaminCross.

The IYWG recognizes the outstanding efforts of this year’s social media champions to increase attention to youth sexual and reproductive health needs. However, the IYWG is not responsible for and does not necessarily endorse the content they share through social media.

Max Kamin-Cross is a consultant and writer.  He is on the Planned Parenthood Young Leaders Advisory Council and is an Education Ambassador for MTV’s It’s Your (Sex) Life program.  Max is the advocacy writer for Scarleteen.com and lobbies on both state and national levels for equal access to healthcare and reproductive rights.  He is a senior at Pittsford Mendon High School and can be reached at Max.Kamin.Cross@gmail.com or on Twitter @MaxKaminCross

Under new regulations issued by the Obama administration, health insurance companies will have to cover contraceptives with no co-pay.  These new requirements, which will begin to take effect at the start of 2013, are prompted by a report from a panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).  After a near-unanimous decision by the panel, the Department of Health and Human Services took their advice and issued the new regulations. 

In the United States about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, costing tax payers more than of $11 billion a year in public insurance costs for pregnancy and first-year infant care. While the new regulations are unlikely to have a major effect on the number of unplanned pregnancies in the short term, they will significantly change the lives of millions of Americans.  For example, oral contraceptives are available for as little as $9 a month, but studies show that even a small co-pay reduces use.  At no cost, contraception will be readily available to many more women.

Another positive outcome of expanding access to contraception is that it gives women and couples the ability to space out their pregnancies. Researchers have concluded that leaving 2-5 years between pregnancies helps ensure healthier babies.  Recently it has been shown that the risk for autism triples for children born less than 2 years after their siblings, in comparison to those born more than 3 years after.  Spacing births also decreases the risks of low birth weight and prematurity; which in turn decreases infant mortality. 

More than 60 percent of total pregnancies are unintended in places like Southern Africa, and infant mortality rates are as high as 1 in 10 in Somalia. In developing countries, approximately one-third of adolescent girls give birth before they turn 20. In light of these statistics, I have to wonder what the result would be if contraceptives were made available for free to women in those countries.  It would take time and money—distribution of the contraceptives alone would be a massive undertaking—but I believe that the long-term benefits would be greater than any other single project my generation could take on.  The benefits would be astounding.

Would there be fewer unplanned pregnancies?  Yes.  Would planned pregnancies be healthier?  Yes.  Would each and every child live a better life?  Yes.  Would we create a better world for ourselves and generations to come?  Yes. 

So why not do it?

This post was written by Elizabeth Futrell with contributions from Ivens Reyner. Elizabeth Futrell is an associate technical officer at FHI, where she works on activities related to community-based family planning and youth sexual and reproductive health. Ivens Reyner is a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Brazil.

This June marks the 30-year anniversary of the first reported diagnosis of AIDS in the U.S. As the global AIDS pandemic now enters its fourth decade, an estimated 5.4 million young people ages 10-24 are living with HIV worldwide. Each year, nearly half of all new infections occur among young people. In addition, each day, half a million young people across the world are infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) other than HIV.

Youth Coalition is one of a growing number of international youth-led and youth-focused organizations committed to promoting adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive rights (SRR) at the national, regional, and international levels. Comprised of students, researchers, lawyers, health care professionals, educators, development workers, and activists, Youth Coalition aims to ensure that the SRR of all young people are respected, guaranteed, and promoted. Coalition members work tirelessly across the globe to advocate for the inclusion of youth-friendly language in international documents and agreements; advocate for comprehensive SRR for young people, including access to information and education, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, and meaningful participation in all decision-making processes that affect them; and build the capacity of young people working on SRR issues to advocate on their own behalf.

Currently, Youth Coalition is participating in a review of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS made at the 2001 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS). The Declaration called on all governments to reduce HIV infection rates among youth ages 15-24 by 25 percent in the most affected countries in 2005 and by 25 percent globally by 2010. The Declaration also set a goal that by 2010, at least 95 percent of youth ages 15-24 would have access to information, education, and services necessary to develop the life skills needed to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Declaration, and while several African countries with high HIV prevalence did report a decline of 25 percent or more among urban youth, research indicates that fewer than 50 percent of the world’s young people have comprehensive knowledge of HIV prevention.

“Access to information related to HIV among young people still needs to be scaled up,” asserts Ivens Reis Reyner, 21, an active Youth Coalition member from Brazil. On April 8th, the group was among a number of youth-led and youth-focused organizations to attend a hearing at the UN headquarters as part of the review process. These organizations worked together to develop key messages that represent the pressing needs of young people. This June, the world will come together to review progress and chart the future course of the global AIDS response at the 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS in New York. At this meeting, Member States are expected to adopt a new Declaration that will reaffirm current commitments and outline actions to guide and sustain the global AIDS response. Says Ivens of the upcoming meeting, “We are going to work to ensure that young people’s rights will be respected and that our needs will be addressed.” He argues that when it comes to youth SRH and HIV prevention, most countries have a lot of work to do, noting that many young people still face barriers to accessing key SRH goods and services, such as condoms and HIV counseling and testing. Ivens feels that young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are often overlooked. “That is the reason for us to work together, not only with youth organizations, but with SRHR organizations as well.” Though the goals set out for young people in the Declaration have not yet been achieved, they are still within reach. There is still hope that to the next generation of young people, HIV will be a thing of the past.

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This blog is brought to you by the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) with financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The content is managed by FHI, which functions as the secretariat for the IYWG.
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