Shay|16.08.2012|Case Study Feature
A SAF grantee since December 2009, Youth Rise are a global organisation fighting the spread of HIV through harm reduction.

Tell me about Youth RISE…

Youth RISE is an international network of young people who are advocating for harm reduction approaches and more humane drug policies for the best interests of children and young people. Our network includes young people who use drugs, young people who are affected by drug policy, and young people who work with young people who use drugs.

Our main activities are advocacy, networking, peer to peer training, training on youth friendly harm reduction and resource development. Our activities vary depending on the needs of any specific country or region, as identified by our members whom are located in these regions.

In light of World AIDS Day 2011, Youth RISE released a short video. Why are animations like this so important?

We felt it was important that we communicate the impact that drug policy has on the HIV infection rates among young people who use drugs, and what responses are needed on order to mitigate the spread of HIV among this population. We wanted to communicate this message in a creative and engaging way in order to hopefully reach a broader audience and educate people on this important issue.

How important is your partnership with MTV Staying Alive Foundation?

MTV Staying Alive Foundation has been a very important and supportive partner in our work. The Foundation has supported Youth RISE since 2009 on a project called ‘Youth RISE Up! For HIV Prevention’, which involves the development of a resource for practical use by peer educators to address harm reduction, sexual heath, and HIV prevention, and peer to peer trainings in 2 countries each year. As part of this project, Youth RISE has conducted peer to peer HIV prevention trainings with young people who use drugs in India, Romania, Mexico, Canada, Nigeria, and Lebanon.

Why is it important to include young people in policy reform and harm reduction approaches when tackling HIV and drug use?

It is critical that those people who are most affected are involved in policy development and service design, delivery and evaluation. This participation ensures that policy and service provision is appropriate, relevant, and meets the real needs of those it is designed to protect and help. Although young people who use drugs are most affected by drug use, they are not meaningfully engaged in policy and service development and implementation.

Harm reduction approaches and services remain largely unavailable for young people who use drugs, due to a number of barriers such as: age restrictions, parental consent requirements, lack of confidentiality guarantees, hostile and untrained service providers, high moral judgement and apprehension to provide information and tools necessary to reduce drug related harm to young people who use drugs (needle and syringes, opiate substitution, honest information, etc). Denying these services to young people means denying access to life-saving HIV prevention services and thus also denying their right to health. Ensuring harm reduction services are available, and are delivered in a youth-friendly manner is critical for tackling HIV among people who use drugs globally.

Why is it important to raise awareness between the connection of drug use and HIV?

Drug use accounts for 30% of all new infections outside sub-Saharan Africa, and in many countries within Eastern Europe, Central Asia and South East Asia, injecting drug use is the main driver of the HIV epidemic. It is also important to note that research indicates that the majority of people who inject drugs begin doing so in their youth. Young people are also more vulnerable to experiencing drug related harms due to a number of individual, social and structural factors.

Harm reduction is proven to be the most effective HIV prevention approach for people who use drugs. The harm reduction approach focus on reducing drug related harm as opposed to drug use itself. It is a non-judgemental approach that is evidence based and is grounded in public health and human rights. Despite this clear evidence of the effectiveness of harm reduction services, they remain inadequate and are not available in many countries. As mentioned above, young people face additional barriers to accessing these services.

Critically, we need to recognise that it is the punitive policies that are currently used to respond to drug use that lead to HIV infection among this population. Criminal drug laws mean people who use drugs do not access life saving HIV prevention and health services when they do exist. Stigma and discrimination of people who use drugs drives drug use underground and mean these people use drugs in risky and unsafe environments.

How have you adapted your approach to drug use in different countries?

It is always necessary to adapt approaches to drug use, advocacy methods, training methods etc according to the regional, national and local realities and contexts. Drugs used, methods of use, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and many other factors affect how one should approach drug use in a particular country, and it is important that those receiving services or for which policies are developed for are fully participating in the processes in order to ensure all these factors are well addressed.

Youth RISE is a global network, and as such has representation in all regions. Our International Working Group serves as representatives for their various regions, and contributes to the networks activities and strategic direction from their perspective. In addition, all projects are developed locally, according to local needs, and thus ensures that activities are adapted appropriately to specific contexts.

How has SAF supported you to achieve your goals?

In addition to providing financial support for our project, SAF has also been supportive in our advocacy efforts, networking with other grantees, and promoting our work. They also have an excellent understanding of youth issues and challenges that youth organisations experience, which is also important for us and has helped us in achieving our project goals.
Youth RISE members have also benefited from the capacity building training that SAF has given two years ago and as a network we are receiving many updates regarding related issues. In addition, we have had the opportunity to benefit from the e-courses on project management over the last two years.

What’s next for Youth RISE?

Youth RISE will continue to grow as a network, and continue to amplify the voice of young people who use drugs in various ways. We are also working towards development and implementation of further local and national projects in various regions, and strategizing for broader policy change that ensure young people who use drugs’ rights and needs are met.
If you want to join Youth RISE in their efforts to curb the spread of HIV through their harm reduction projects please click here.

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