The UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia organized a regional partners meeting on HIV/ AIDS and young key populations in South Asia in May this year under the theme “All in! Towards ending the AIDS epidemic among adolescents in South Asia”. The three daylong meeting was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 49 participants from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives took part in this meeting and the meeting was chaired by Dr. Annefrida Kiseasa, regional Adviser, HIV and AIDS, UNICEF ROSA.
Sharing information on the country-level experience of collecting strategic information on young people from key affected populations, including protocols, methodologies, and lesson learnt was one of the main objectives of this meeting. The meeting also facilitated a discussion on strengthening adolescent component of HIV services in National Programs. The meeting also envisioned to enhance partnerships for planning and implementation of interventions which can lead to increased access to HIV related services for adolescent key populations; including meaningful partnerships with adolescents and civil societies working with adolescents. The conclusion of the meeting saw the development of recommendations and next steps for scaling up services for adolescents key populations.
As YVC has clearly identified in the new discussion paper titled “Jumping Hurdles”, young people, especially adolescents face numerous barriers in accessing HIV health services. This situation is further complicated in the South Asian region where cultural, traditional and religious values and norms play a vital role in an individual’s life. An adolescent accessing HIV health services is considered extremely inappropriate since the action also underlines that the concerned individual have had sexual relations which is considered a taboo. Therefore it is vital that all the partners in the HIV response come together to make sure that adolescents and young people are included meaningfully in the national HIV responses.
However as a young person, I believe that reaching adolescents and young people would remain a challenge unless and until the HIV services are provided an attractive make over. Due to many reasons, HIV is not an issue of concern for many young people in this region; lack of knowledge being the main culprit. Therefore they do not realize the importance of accessing HIV services regularly. Hence the remaining facility based HIV services need to be more attractive to young people, especially young key populations. These services need to be friendly and welcoming of young key populations and should also integrate other health and wellbeing concerns of young people making them hubs that are frequented by young people.
The All In effort initiated by UNICEF and UNAIDS is timely since the Asia and Pacific region now houses the largest youth population. The epidemic is now concentrated in the MSM and transgender populations in the region and the younger counter parts of these populations are the most affected. Therefore it is indispensable that everyone come together to ensure that adolescent and young key populations are not left behind.
Farid Ahmed – Youth Voices Count Member – Bangladesh