Amplifying the voices of young key populations in the national HIV response of Sri Lanka
Addressing public health concerns requires a commitment to ensuring inclusivity and meaningful representation. One such public health concern is the prevalence of HIV and STI among certain key and vulnerable population and the need to promote awareness prevention, testing and treatment of them. Recognizing the importance of these issues, DAST, a communities and civil society organization in Sri Lanka, recently organized a two-day capacity-building workshop for a group of young people representing different key populations. The capacity building workshop which was led by DAST Youth Officer, a position supported by the Youth LEAD aimed to empower community participants by providing them with comprehensive knowledge about HIV/STIs and facilitating discussions on SOGIESC-related challenges.
The workshop commenced with a focus on HIV/STI education and awareness. Participants were equipped with valuable knowledge about prevention, transmission, and available resources related to HIV/STIs in Sri Lanka. Roshan De Silva, the Project Manager of DAST, led the session and engaged the youth participants in discussions on the role of Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) in combating HIV/STIs and the current status of Sri Lanka's national HIV response. The aim of the discussion was raise awareness among the participants on existing facilities and services related to HIV/STIs.
On the second day, the workshop shifted its attention to the specific challenges faced by young key populations (YKP) in Sri Lanka concerning HIV/STIs. The participants engaged in open and honest discussions to identify the issues and explore potential strategies for addressing them. One of the key concerns highlighted was the lack of meaningful representation of the youth community in the national HIV/STI response. The participants emphasized the importance of including youth voices at decision-making levels to ensure that their perspectives are considered in shaping effective and relevant messaging that resonates with their peers.
Another significant issue raised during the workshop was the limited awareness among the youth community about the available facilities and services related to HIV/STIs. Despite the presence of such facilities, many young people remain unaware of their existence and how to access them. This knowledge gap hampers their ability to seek appropriate support and preventive measures. The participants stressed the need for targeted awareness campaigns to bridge this gap and ensure that the youth community is well-informed about the available resources. Additionally, the workshop revealed a lack of clear understanding among the youth community regarding HIV/STIs. It highlighted the importance of comprehensive education programs that go beyond basic information, aiming to dispel misconceptions and equip young individuals with accurate knowledge. The participants emphasized the need for ongoing education initiatives that address the diverse needs of the youth community and empower them to make informed decisions regarding their sexual health
A recurring theme throughout the workshop was the urgent need for youth representation at decision-making levels. The participants recognized that their voices were often overlooked in shaping policies and programs related to HIV/STIs. They stressed that including youth perspectives is vital to ensure that interventions and initiatives are relevant, effective, and impactful for the youth community. In conclusion, the capacity-building workshop organized by DAST Sri Lanka provided a crucial platform for empowering youth voices and fostering discussions on HIV/STIs and SOGISC-related challenges. The workshop highlighted the necessity of youth representation in decision-making processes and the need to address the concerns raised by the youth community. By actively involving young voices, we can create more inclusive and effective approaches to combat HIV/STIs, promote SOGISC awareness, and shape public health initiatives.
The group of youth participants will be supported by DAST and Youth officer to engage in the national Global Fund-related processes including different workshops, country dialogue consultations aiming to build a new set of youth Global Fund advocates in Sri Lanka. It is important that we prioritize the youth engagement and representation to build a healthier and more inclusive society for all.
Harshana E Gunasingha
Youth Officer (DAST)