Youth RISE (Resource. Information. Support. Education) is an international youth network for reducing drug-related harm. Youth RISE is youth-driven and set up to work with young people from around the world to reduce the risks and harms associated with substance use. During Day 1 of the High Level Meeting on AIDS, Caitlin Padgett, Coordinator of Youth RISE, spoke as one of several Civil Society representatives during the session on Universal Access.
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"First I will mention that I am in full support of Dr Lydia Mungherera statements, and I simply wish to elaborate on several points. I also fully support the comments of all of the other panelists.
I will be speaking about 2 issues – harm reduction and youth, which are the groups that I represent and belong too.
On the issue of harm reduction: When I was preparing this speech, I was cautioned to not use the words harm reduction. That they are too political and controversial. Yet, the UN Secretary General’s report mentions people who use injection drugs as a priority population, yet less that 5% of people who use injection drugs have access to HIV prevention and treatment services. This is almost incomprehensible when we have proven public health interventions. Drug use must be treated as a public health issues and we call for this to be reflect across the UN systems. We ask that the delegations here work with their governments and colleagues to prioritize drugs as public health issue at the upcoming UNGASS on Drugs.
Another obstacle to achieving Universal Access is the eligibility criteria of the Global Fund. Soon, many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia will not be eligible for Global Fund grants, while they have been performing very successfully. By the time current grants have ended, about 20% of vulnerable people like injection drug users in the region will have access to services thanks to the involvement of many NGOs, while before access was almost non-existent. This is a great result, but far from Universal Access. Many of these programs soon will end, and this must be addressed.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about young people and young people’s issues, yet there continues to be a gap between what gets talked about, and actual meaningful involvement. Young people continue to be marginalized, and within vulnerable groups, this contributes to a “double discrimination.” In 2007, approximately 40% of all new infections among those aged 15 years and above occurred among young people between 15-24 year old. This is unacceptable.
There must be youth-friendly sexual health and harm reduction services for young people. This means using popular communications and ensuring service hours that relate to young people’s schedules. It may be outreach services to young people who are not accessing services. Many young people cannot even access existing health and harm reduction services because of discrimination, age restrictions or because sometimes adult services as not safe.
Children and youth’s rights must be met and protected. We have the full right to sexual and reproductive health, to be free from violence and persecution, to have an education, and the right to confidentiality. We do not lose of forfeit these rights because of a sexual minority status or HIV positive status, or if we are drug users.
When the resources and support young people need to reduce drug-related harms are unavailable, when sexual and reproductive health services do not address the link between substance use (including alcohol), and sexual health risks, our right to the highest attainable standard of health is being denied. When young people who use injection drugs or are affected by drug use are excluded from global and regional HIV/AIDS policy making, our right to participation is being denied. And when education fails to honestly address drug related harm and sexual and reproductive health, our rights to education and to freely access information are not being respected.
If the universal access targets continue to go unmet, our rights to the highest standard of health and to live a full and productive life are being denied. Please take this message home. Work with young people, and invest in youth leadership, and youth in general. These issues must be addressed in order to achieve Universal Access. If they are not, then there will be another meeting where we present the same statistics I shared with you today. Let’s make sure that does not happen.