By guest blogger, Brian Mwebaze
Brian is the young researcher who conducted a secondary analytic of the CrowdOutAIDS open forum data on what the crowd had to say about access to Sexual and Reproductive Health information and services. He is currently attending the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating board where he presented the findings as well as reports back to the @CrowdOutAIDS community.
There couldn’t be a better day on the 30th PCB meeting than the 6th of 6th Month of 2012 <That’s how we write months in Arabic, right?> On this day, the session Young people and combination prevention was held and the CrowdOutAIDS agenda was also shared with members of the PCB. Much respects to more than 5,000 young people who participated in online and offline worldwide regional forums to discuss the challenges and opportunities for the UN to work more effectively with young people, youth networks and organizations.
The theme of the day was Combination Prevention and a team of UN representatives, member states and NGO representatives had developed the agenda together. The session saw Mr. Michael Bartos from UNAIDS give an insight into Combination Prevention to HIV. He highlighted the importance of comprehensive sex education in the language of young people as well as the importance of having a multipronged approach including biomedical, behavioral and structural programmes. This same point was supported by Dr Ibra Ndoye-a gentleman who leads the National AIDS Commission inSenegal. In his presentation ‘Prevention Combinée-Exemple du Senegal’, he stressed that young people inSenegalhave been given a central role in planning, implementation and evaluation of health programmes. Meena seshu from SANGRAM inIndia, explained how sex workers find themselves caught between different branches of the government – one saying they should use condoms and the other arresting them for carrying these same governmental condoms. Her plea to all of us was: STOP Moral Criminalization!
Four breakout sessions were planned and I attended two of them. The first one was of course the youth session, which was moderated by the awesome Mabel PCB NGO representative fromArgentina. The youth superstars that presented and shared with the PCB delegation were Samuel Kwesi Kissi (Ghana), Anita Krug (Australia), Rachel Arinii (Asia Pacific), Mikaela Hildebrand (UNAIDS-Youth Programmes) and well, Brian Kanaahe Mwebaze Bilal (Uganda). Anita Krug led the discussion on stigmatization of high risk groups especially IDU while Sam and Rachel called for a deeper involvement and participation of young people in reproductive health programmes. Mikaela passionately shared the theory and practice behind CrowdOutAIDS. As for myself, I presented the findings from a qualitative analysis of the CrowdOutAIDS with a focus on sexual and reproductive health rights. Some of the key points here were the hunger for comprehensive sex education, changing attitudes of society about sex, providing youth friendly and accessible reproductive health services as well as sending to hell, all forms of stigma and discrimination especially to high risk groups.
The youth superstars shared with the PCB delegates about the need to clearly create a platform to scale up the youth leadership strategy. It was communicated that UNAIDS would appoint youth officers in each region to see to it that youth leadership is brought to table. In the afternoon I attended the breakout session on HIV and co-infections people who inject drugs. It was characterized by insightful, technical presentations and discussions. The WHO technical person Annette Verster did her thing on HIV & Co Infections in people who inject drugs. Her presentation clearly showed the gap between number of people infected with Hepatitis B or C and the number who receive treatment . She made it clear from her epidemiological analysis that people who inject drugs exist and all countries should welcome the idea of catering for their health if they are to observe general public health.
I also attended the presentation on HIV inPoland, the Role of Civil Society in HCV/HIV Prevention and treatment access among people who inject drugs. I was particularly interested in knowing more about people who inject drugs s because in my country (Uganda) and the continent (Africa), this field is seen as ‘Not Sexy’. It doesn’t catch the attention of decision makers, not even organizations. There are arguably fewer organizations dealing with people who inject drugs in my country than pregnant guinea fowls! The criminalization that policy makers have put on people who inject drugs defies their commitment to ensuring Zero HIV infections for sure because, these brothers and sisters of ours will definitely not dare entering a health centre for health services. It also came out clearly that many efforts need to be taken to bring down prices for hepatitis C treatment.
I love evidence…and possibly, this is why my current study is looking at evaluations of reproductive health programmes! Yay!!! So, I also had a chance to drag myself into Rosalia Rodriguez Garcia from the World Bank’s ‘Community Level Evidence Informs Decision Making for HIV Combination Prevention’ session. In her presentation, she indirectly called on everyone to work closely with communities, including young people, because they are key to get to zero HIV infections. The same call was made but this time focusing on high risk groups in the presentation from the Global Forum on Men who have sex with Men’s Dr.George Ayala entitled ‘Linking Data to Decision Making’.
After the sessions and feedback from the plenary had been conducted, I made sure I attended the NGO delegation debriefing session. While there was a thumbs up environment for the young people and combination prevention, the question of sustaining HIV youth programmes especially on the funding part wasn’t answered.
While it’s true that I was pleased with everything that went on today, I know that ‘Talking a lot doesn’t stop onlookers from tying up a mad man’-African proverb, I (and the young people out there) no longer want to discuss issues repeatedly. It’s boring by the way, isn’t it? Issues on youth sexual and reproductive health rights have been made clear, the question remains on the implementation part and putting that badly needed enabling environment to ensure impact on the ground! Until then, we can only hope J Looking forward to Day 3