The Upcoming Whip Against HIV: SRHR

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Murtaza Gandhi is a third-year medical student in Terna Medical College, Navi Mumbai, India and an active member of Medical Students Association of India (MSAI). He 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.

These words have been a cornerstone of most major health policies drafted on a global level in the recent past. Despite the attention and resources dedicated to eliminating HIV, there is one aspect which has remained quite neglected, at least in certain parts of the world – Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

One of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2015 is “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services” by 2030. But when it comes to SRHR, it does not take a professional to see the vast disparities across different nations. There are several reasons for this variance, the most influential of which is adherence to cultural and religious beliefs which view sex and all related topics as taboo. This has greatly decelerated the progress of SRHR. It has been predicted that at least 4.3 billion people in the reproductive age group will have inadequate SRHR over the course of their life.

AIDS is the leading cause of death among young people in Africa, and second, globally. It has been found that young women are twice as likely to acquire HIV than men, the most common route of infection being unprotected sex. This, however, is preventable with adequate HIV and sexual health knowledge, both of which fall under the domain of SRHR.

A 2017 study aimed at assessing the integration of HIV and SRHR policies in 60 countries found that HIV strategies had a higher level of inclusion of SRHR components with a global average of 6.6/10 compared to 3.7/10 for SRHR strategies including HIV components. The study concluded that despite the increased global commitment since 2004 to link SRHR and HIV, insufficient headway has been made in linking related national strategies.

The strategies of SRHR have evolved through the years. While universal reproductive health care remains the ultimate objective, it has been expanded to include right to access education regarding sexual and reproductive health, an end to female genital mutilation, and increased women’s empowerment in social, political, and cultural spheres. Special goals and targets were also created to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health needs with emphasis on HIV.

SRHR-HIV linkages have demonstrated better HIV testing outcomes: more consistent condom use; improved quality of care; better use of scarce human resources for health; reduced HIV-related stigma and discrimination; improved coverage, access to, and uptake of both SRHR and HIV services for at risk/vulnerable and key populations, including people living with HIV.

It goes without saying that SRHR plays a crucial role in not just ending HIV but helping those afflicted by it to live a life free of stigma and judgement. Isolated global commitments in incorporating SRHR cannot possibly do justice to its importance. We must, as a society, take active efforts in ensuring that SRHR is a universal right to all people in all nations because no matter what efforts are taken in this war against HIV, there is no path to success which does not pass through SRHR.

About the author

Murtaza Gandhi is a third-year medical student in Terna Medical College, Navi Mumbai, India and an active member of Medical Students Association of India (MSAI). He is currently a member of the Bioethics Committee Student’s Wing under which he has organised and participated in several events. He enjoys reading, writing and trekking and is always on the lookout for new experiences and adventures.

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