Making the Global Fund work for young people

When the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria included the need to reduce “gender and age disparities in health” in its new five-year strategy earlier this year, many young people from Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda celebrated.

These young people, many of who are living with or affected by HIV yet face significant barriers to accessing essential services, have spent the past three years campaigning for the recognition of their sexual and reproductive health and rights globally, regionally, nationally and locally, supported by the Link Up programme. As part of this work, participants seized on the development of a new Global Fund strategy to establish more youth-friendly and inclusive policies within the organisation and bring young people most affected by HIV into its decision making processes. The Global Fund’s strategy announcement suggests their efforts, along with many other individuals and organisations, are making a difference.

<p>The RNJ+ youth centre&nbsp;serves all young people including those most affected by HIV or marginalised through discrimination or criminalisation. This includes people living with HIV, LGBT youth and sex workers.</p>

Leading the way

Link Up’s advocates include inspiring young people such as Claudia Nizigiyimana, a young woman from Bujumbura in Burundi who chairs RNJ+, a national network of young people living with HIV. Claudia was elected to Burundi’s Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) for the Global Fund last year after attending a Women4GlobalFund workshop in Morocco.

“The workshop was very useful as it encouraged me to speak up,” says Claudia. “The participants were all women; not all of them were living with HIV like me but many were. I learnt more about the Global Fund and the importance of having women’s voices, especially young women’s voices, on the CCM. When the opportunity came to identify a PLHIV [person living with HIV] representative to the CCM in Burundi, I put myself forward and the networks of PLHIV elected me. They placed their hope in me.”

Claudia is one of two young people from key populations now sitting on Burundi’s CCM: Mona, a young transgender woman from LGBT peer education and advocacy group Humure, is also a member. CCMs exist to develop national grant proposals to the Global Fund and oversee the progress of programmes. Together, Claudia and Mona are now working to ensure the diverse needs of young people most affected by HIV in Burundi are included in these processes.

“I’m also very proud of the day-to-day leadership of young people at RNJ+ - those who are managing budgets, leading activities, mentoring other young people, and ensuring we are accountable to other young people.”

Making a difference

Similarly, the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS (UNYPA) has played a major role in influencing national approaches to the Global Fund through Link Up. Collaborating with Link Up Global Policy Partners ATHENA Network and Stop AIDS Now!, plus Alliance Linking Organisation Community Health Alliance Uganda and partners, UNYPA consulted a wide range of young people most affected by HIV then drew up a young key populations charter. Elements of the charter – specifically around HIV prevention for men who have sex with men and transgender people – went on to form part of the Uganda Global Fund concept note.

From Geneva – where Link Up participants travelled to consult with Global Fund officials during its strategy development – to Myanmar, where Link Up youth advocates successfully campaigned for the inclusion of language on young key populations in the country’s national strategic plan – the efforts of Link Up advocates is helping to raise the profile of young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights with a wide range of decision makers.

“Through Link Up I have engaged at a higher level,” says Claudia. “I have engaged at national, regional and international levels; with parliamentarians, researchers and programme implementers and I’ve also been part of decision-making around RNJ+’s contribution to the Link Up project.

“Through the CCM I have raised questions and promoted debate about young people living with HIV and our role in health service provision, including remuneration of young people for our work in service delivery. I now know what is happening in my own country. If there are stock-outs, I know. If medicines have expired, I know. I am a better advocate for other young people and women living with HIV because I am informed and can speak up in meetings.”

Claudia says her rewarding moment came when RNJ+ was awarded the Red Ribbon Award at the recent 21st International AIDS Conference. “I was so proud,” she says. “Many peer educators, counsellors and advocates work so hard. It is special that all our work is recognised, and at a global level. It has motivated us to do more and to do better.

“I’m also very proud of the day-to-day leadership of young people at RNJ+ - those who are managing budgets, leading activities, mentoring other young people, and ensuring we are accountable to other young people. We young people are professionals and I am very proud of this.”

2016 Global Fund replenishment

The next Global Fund replenishment meeting will be held on 16 September 2016 which will address financial support for 2017 to 2019. The Alliance calls on global health leaders to commit to a fully funded response to end AIDS, and TB and malaria, by 2030. This includes ensuring the continued, and increased, representation of people most affected by HIV on the CCMs, to influence decisions so programmes can be accessed by people most in need and no groups will be ignored.