The last few days, I’ve been running around the International Conference on Family Planning in Dakar, Senegal. It’s been incredible to see the more than 2,500 health providers, donors, journalists, researchers, advocates, and government officials who are all talking about family planning—even the President of Senegal has stopped by to show his support.
But one of the big topics of the conference has been the integration of family planning and HIV services. It’s not just because today is World AIDS Day. Family planning and HIV services share a common, and very important patient: young, sexually active men and women of reproductive age. And the most vulnerable and at-risk? Young women.
The recent debate about hormonal contraception possibly increasing risk of HIV does not negate the fact that young women need protection from unintended pregnancy and HIV, as well as the ability to decide when, if, and how many children to have. As Tewodros Melesse, Director General of IPPF said this morning in a press conference in Dakar, “integrated services are critical.”
Pathfinder International President Daniel E. Pellegrom said, “We must follow the patient. Women face risks with young, frequent and unintended pregnancies. They are also most at risk for HIV.”
Throughout the conference, this has been a main focus of media, break out sessions, as well as Twitter. It’s clear that youth—and particularly young women—need comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. To do this, we need a greater investment in international family planning and a greater investment in supporting youth.
Yesterday I spoke to a young woman from Zimbabwe who advocates for youth health care. She said that oftentimes, youth don’t even know how they can get pregnant. She said she would love young people to start a campaign to say to providers, “I might be pregnant. Ask me!”
I hope you’ll take action this World AIDS Day by sharing this story, or making a comment below. Join the 2,500 of us in Dakar as we raise awareness about the importance of family planning, HIV services, and more for youth!
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