Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights remain a priority to IOM’s work in Southern Africa
13 April 2021
Through the innovative use of over 1000 ‘change agents’, the initiative reached over 650,000 beneficiaries with comprehensive SRH-HIV information and services.
Migrants and young people in Southern Africa often find themselves in position of vulnerability as pertains to their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), due to various factors including harmful traditional practices, communal disenfranchisement, socio-economic challenges, and low awareness about their SRHR and access to essential health services.
From 2016 to 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in partnership with Save the Children (SC) and the University of Witwatersrand School of Public Health (WSPH), implemented a joint regional initiative called the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV (SRHR-HIV) Knows No Borders (KNB). The programme’s objective was to improve SRHR-HIV related outcomes amongst migrant and non-migrant adolescents, young people, sex workers and others living in migration-affected communities, in six countries in the Southern Africa region notably, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia.
Over the aforementioned period, the SRHR-HIV KNB initiative remained committed to its main objectives of increasing awareness and knowledge on HIV and SRH rights, improving access to and use of integrated SRH and HIV services, and the institutionalization of HIV and SRH rights at local, national and regional levels.
“Five years ago, we [IOM] entered a partnership with Save the Children Netherlands, Save the Children East and southern Africa Regional Office and the University of the Witwatersrand School of Public Health to form what came to be known as the SRHR HIV Knows No Borders Consortium,” said Charles Kwenin, IOM Regional Director for Southern Africa. This partnership delivered a unique intervention which attracted participation of government, regional and international NGOs, religious and traditional leadership, civil society and community-based structures. We are embraced with the findings from the donor’s final project evaluation of 2019 which affirmed that IOM’s KNB project contribution as being relevant, efficient and effective in changing the lives of many migrants, sex workers and youth in migration-affected communities in Southern Africa,” he continued.
Through the innovative use of over 1000 ‘change agents’, deployed through the communities to engage with people through door-to-door and community dialogues, the initiative has been able to reach over 650,000 beneficiaries with comprehensive SRH-HIV information and services through the community-based referral systems; helped over 70,000 migrants, sex workers and young people receive services ranging from HIV testing, family planning, initiation on HIV anti-retroviral treatment (ART) as well as services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence; sensitized over 700 duty bearers including health and non-health service providers, faith and traditional structures, on human and SRH rights of beneficiaries, while following a rights-based approach to service provision; ensured that SRH-HIV rights and migration be mainstreamed in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) migration framework, including national migration policies and plans in Malawi, Zambia, Eswatini, Mozambique and South Africa; and supported the strengthening of cross-border coordination through the establishment of bi- and tri-lateral cross-border coordination platforms among participating countries, to advocate and engage governments and other stakeholders on cross-border health and migration issues.
“Many sex workers are afraid to walk into a clinic for any reason, let alone to get tested for HIV. I spend a great deal of time explaining to them that that the process is straight forward, and that the medications can guaranty them a long and normal life. It brings me joy every time my efforts lead to their successful visits to clinics and proper medications”, explains one of the change agents in South Africa, who used to be a sex worker.
As the project launches its second phase on 31 March 2021, stretching through 2026, the new objectives will remain the same, in addition to aiming toward three long-term outcomes, which include safer sexual behaviors, increased access to quality SRH services, and progressive realization of sexual rights in socio-cultural norms and policy reforms at all levels for migrants, sex workers and young vulnerable people, and other individuals in migration-affected communities.