Linking HIV prevention with SRHR

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Dhwani Gandhi, a 1st year medical student studying in MP SHAH medical college, Jamnagar. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

AIDS is one of the most deadly sexually transmitted diseases. 1.7 million People were infected with HIV in 2019 and 690000 died due to AIDS related disease. Adolescents between the age of 15 to 24 contribute to 40% of the HIV cases each year.  It is the second highest cause of morbidity in adolescents affecting mainly women, transgender communities, sex workers and other marginalized community. Lack of awareness about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, modern methods of contraception, abortion, family planning, sexually transmitted infections (STI) makes these groups more susceptible to HIV.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) refer to the rights of each individual over their body, gender and sexual life. It includes imparting high quality sex education, access to contraception, safe and legal abortion, maternal and adolescent health along with various other components.

SRHR and HIV are closely linked together, one cannot be achieved without the other. UNAIDS has stated that its aim to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 cannot be achieved without integration of SRHR and HIV.

How to link HIV and SRHR?

HIV is associated with a lot of stigma like women with HIV are forced to undergo abortion, they are subjected to violence and discrimination and the idea of them engaging in sexual activity is still looked down on by many. These misconceptions can be removed only by creating more awareness about SRHR. HIV and SRHR can be linked to learn HIV status, Promote safer sex, optimize connection between HIV and STI services and promote dual protection. Almost 20% of people are unaware of being HIV positive and thus don’t receive medical treatment.  Testing, counselling and treatment of AIDS can be increased and made more efficient with SRHR. With SRHR people especially adolescents can be made aware of contraceptive methods, safer sex, family planning etc. integrating SRHR with the current HIV policies will help in preventing further spread of the disease. Prevention is better than cure especially for something that has no cure.

Advantages of linking HIV with SRHR

Attending a HIV clinic takes away the patient’s right to confidentiality as opposed to attending a general clinic where more services are available. Linking the family planning with HIV can reduce the stigma faced by patients regarding use of contraceptives, having a sexual life, wanting more kids etc. It will also ensure better use of the scarce human resources and increase the efficiency of the care given to the patient. It will cater to the needs of the patient in a holistic and positive way.

The best example to assert the importance of their interrelationship is LINK UP. It was a project (2013-2016) funded by the government of Netherlands that aimed at improving the SRHR of young people suffering from HIV. It was successfully applied to many countries like Uganda, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. Through Link Up, young people aged 10-24 were reached with integrated HIV/SRHR services. It helped 940,000 young people to be better informed and enable them to make healthier choices about their sexual health. It also helped in building youth leaders, role models and peer educators.

About the author

Dhwani Gandhi is a 1st year medical student studying in MP SHAH medical college, Jamnagar. She completed her high school from Satyamev Jayate international school, Ahmedabad. She is an active member of Medical students association of India. She has organized, volunteered and participated in various MSAI activities. She presented a case on pulmonary hypoplasia in a national level UG conference. She has an inquisitive and creative nature.

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