What does it mean to be a young woman who uses drugs, growing up in Russia? It is known that Russia has the largest HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and unlike the trend in other countries, the epidemic is growing. Young women living with HIV in Russia face multiple challenges and barriers to accessing HIV services: stigma, discrimination and violence. Young women are becoming more and more affected in Russia. This is due to gender inequality, intimate partner violence and sexual violence. Their freedom becomes limited, and their right to access HIV/SRHR services is denied.

Focus on the young

In Russia, there are little programmes and services that take the needs and barriers of young people from key populations as a starting point. Therefore, young people are harder to reach and engage in HIV/SRHR services. In South Africa, Kenya and Vietnam, young people have similar problems and face similar barriers to access HIV/SRHR related services. From the experiences gained by almost 10 years of Bridging the Gaps programming, the need to focus on specifically young people became very clear.

That is why this ‘Young, Wild, and… Free?’ project is focussing on young people: young sex workers and men who have sex with men in Kenya, young people who use drugs in Russia and South Africa and young LGBT people from Vietnam. The ambition of this project is twofold: to improve service delivery for young people from key populations and contribute to the build-up or existing inclusive networks of young people. Aidsfonds, AFEW, GNP+, Mainline, and MPact are working together on this Flexible Fund (funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Scaling-up best practices in youth service-delivery

Improving service delivery for young people in Kenya, Russia, South Africa and Russia will be done by analysing existing best practices to engage and reach young people, and then conduct a country specific community-based research in each country to assess the needs and barriers young people face. The gathered knowledge will feed the scale-up of existing practices.

Working with youth networks

There are already youth networks in some of the countries. Y+ is a strong global network of young people living with HIV, Teenergizer (Ukraine) developed a model where young people become self-starters for youth peer support groups and advocacy, and Inti Muda (Indonesia) is strong in representing young people from key populations in important processes, such as the Global Fund. A lot can and will be learned from these networks by sharing their knowledge and build youth networks based upon their experiences. Young people in all four countries are coming together to further build their own networks and professionalize their activities, with the goal to support each other and become the voice of young people from key populations in each country.

The next generation: AIDS-free?

Teenergizer is youth movement throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, involving over 300 teenagers, they developed a model where teenagers and young people become self-starters for youth peer support groups, changing legislation, improving SRHR education, bringing public attention to youth issues.

This project aims to improve the situation for young people from key populations in all four countries. Besides, the outcomes of the different activities will be used to improve programming for young people from key populations. We aim to develop a platform where knowledge-sharing can be ensured. An online database of best practices will be published, that can be used by other NGOs or governments to tailor HIV/SRHR services to young people’s needs. Because young people are the next generation, and by investing in the young we can work towards an AIDS-free generation.

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