Link Up: Positive health, positive change

link-up-uganda4247Link Up (2013-2016) was a pioneering project that improved the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of almost 940,000 young people who are most affected by HIV in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda. I was really proud to be a part of the team, as a technical advisor, pretty much from start to finish. This week, a Supplement of the Journal of Adolescent Health was published that presents some of the findings from the project and its impact, and is well worth a read for a quiet January evening! 

Link Up was innovative, and most importantly, the project addressed a specific and well known gap in access to services for vulnerable young people.

Young people have limited access to sexual and reproductive health services at a critical time in their lives – as they are exploring relationships, better understanding themselves and their cultures, and thinking about the kind of intimate partnerships they seek for their future.

Most people become sexually active during their youth (before age 25 years). Currently more than half the world population is below the age of 25, with 1.8 billion young people between 10 and 24 according to the United Nations Population Fund. Most of these young people ( 85% ) live in developing countries.

Young people have limited access to sexual and reproductive health services at a critical time in their lives – as they are exploring relationships, better understanding themselves and their cultures, and thinking about the kind of intimate partnerships they seek for their future.

More than 50% of young women 15-19yrs who are sexually active often have unmet need for modern contraception. HIV is the second largest contributor of adolescent mortality globally and the number one in Africa and young people aged 15-24 account for 40% of new HIV infections. Young people are not being reached with the kind of health services they need, to protect themselves, their lives, and their sexual and reproductive choices for the future.

When they can access services, often the services are not free from stigma or judgement. They may be expected to have their parents there; and they may not be expected to be exploring their sexuality at all before entering into a marriage that has not been chosen by the young people themselves. While some cocio-cultural norms around young people’s sexuality and gender inequality can enable and support young people as they come of age, others create barriers and install prejudice that may be to the detriment of young people’s sexual and reproductive health.

Programmes typically fail to affirm that young people in all their diversity should have rights to sexual health; to a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life; and to make choices whether, when, and how to have children.

Link Up was an ambitious consortium project (2013-2016) funded by the Government of the Netherlands, that aimed to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than 800,000 10-24 year olds most affected by HIV in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Uganda. The Supplement was published this year, titled Integrating Rights into HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health: Evidence and Experiences from the Link Up Project.

You can read the Supplement free of charge – it is open access – from the Journal of Adolescent Health, and find out more about the project from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Enjoy and happy reading!

Lucy Stackpool-Moore

Photo: Mariam, aged 20, who is a peer educator with Link Up by Gemma Taylor for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

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