All people everywhere need information, supplies and services to protect themselves against HIV and other sexually transmitted inventions. But in times of crisis, many factors – the breakdown of social and information networks, the disruption of families, a lack of condoms, the increase in sexual violence and high-risk behaviour, and exposure to tainted blood – leave individuals especially vulnerable to contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Confusion and despair heighten this vulnerability.
Refugees need HIV prevention and care services appropriate to their language, culture and current situation. But they are almost always overlooked in national HIV/AIDS initiatives, and policies to meet their special needs are scarce.
As a member of UNAIDS, the Joint UN Programme on AIDS, UNFPA is assigned key roles in information and education, condom programming and strengthening the HIV/AIDs response in the context of security, uniformed services and humanitarian crises.
Information about HIV and AIDS can be especially critical for those affected by crisis because their vulnerability may increase at the same time that traditional information networks break down. Refugee camps provide opportunities as well as challenges, in this regard, as education and outreach can be linked to other structured camp activities.
Within UNAIDS, UNFPA is assigned the lead role in providing information and education related to HIV prevention. In crisis zones, the Fund uses a variety of strategies to empower displaced people with the knowledge they need to stay HIV-free. These include mass media campaigns, life-skills education, voluntary counselling and testing, and the creation of ‘safe spaces’ where adolescents can freely access information, services and peer support networks. UNFPA strongly advocates for linking HIV prevention with all other reproductive health interventions, such as maternal care.
UNFPA programmes also promote delayed sexual initiation among young people and help prevent transmission from new or expectant mothers to their babies. The Fund’s advocacy to prevent sexual violence in the aftermath of humanitarian crises is another aspect of reducing vulnerability to HIV.