Youth Leadership on Sexual and Reproductive Health Issues

Nearly half of the world’s population is currently under the age of 25 and across the globe young people face unique challenges that increase their risk of sexual and reproductive health morbidity and mortality. Young people aged 15-24 account for an estimated 45% of new HIV infections world wide and approximately 6000 people are infected with HIV everyday according to the UNAIDS 2008 report on the global AIDS epidemic. The largest proportion of STIs is believed to occur in young people below the age of 25 years. The Youth Forum at the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) Pre-Congress Activity, Bali, Indonesia focused on meaningful and active youth participation to robust Youth Leadership on Sexual and Reproductive Health issues among Asia and the Pacific region.

The Youth Forum being very vibrant and energetic aimed to strengthen the networks of youth organizations and independent youth activists in Asia and the Pacific. The participants identified and exchanged views on key and emerging issues of concern related to young people. Knowledge, experience and skills were shared among the youth forum delegates. Discussions included better ways to manage and implement youth programs in the future. The forum ensured that young people’s voices, needs and issues will be heard in the Congress and followed after it. These deliberations among the participants will be presented as comprehensive recommendations for governments, UN agencies, non-governmental and international organizations. Skills building training were provided for the youth to be empowered from each others diversity and similarity.

It becomes critical to address the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people in order to achieve universal access to reproductive health (RH). This being target 5.B of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which is: “Achieve by 2015, universal access to reproductive health”. Access to sexual and reproductive health is a human right, it is a right that all people, including young people are entitled to. The four official indicators for MDG Target 5.B are contraceptive prevalence, adolescent birth rate, antenatal care coverage and unmet need for family planning. These are all important factors, but achieving universal access to RH for young people requires a broader more comprehensive approach to address social, economic, political, environmental and biological determinants of SRH.

Some other important aspects of Universal Access to young people are ensuring access to youth friendly SRH services that include prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV and STIs. Comprehensive sexuality education to be provided in formal and informal educational settings that include medically accurate information about sexuality, reproductive, human development, contraceptive methods, STIs and HIV, relationships, decision-making, skills-building to resist social/peer pressure, sexual orientation, body-image and gender relations. Ensuring that youth have access to a variety of modern contraceptive methods and safe abortion services Elimination of harmful practices and gender based violence through policies, programmes and laws that address the social, economic and cultural practices that lead to these practices. Making modifications to the health systems to facilitate the integration SRH, family planning, HIV and STI services. Providing services in a non-discriminatory way to marginalized young people, including YPLWHA, sex workers, injecting drug users, refugees, internally displaced people and undocumented migrants. Young people need to meaningfully participate in the design, delivery and evaluation of SRH interventions.

To achieve Universal Access for sexual and reproductive health and rights to young people it is necessary to foster an enabling environment, with sustaining commitment from governments, community leaders, young people and donors. The right to SRH is clearly articulated in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA), which was endorsed by 179 UN member states in 1994. The ICPD PoA remains just as relevant today as it did 15 years ago. The PoA’s focus on a rights-based approach to population, health, environment and development issues is pre-requisite to achieve the broader goals outlined in the MDG framework.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS