Summary of the project “Young, wild and…free”

The young representatives of the key populations vulnerable to HIV infection in Russia – people who use drugs, sex workers and members of the LGBT community, particularly men having sex with men – aged 18 to 24, constantly face difficulties in the access to the services in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV prevention and harm reduction.

To identify barriers of the young key populations in the access to such services, a community-based participatory research (CBPR) in the three regions of the Russian Federation was conducted by members of the Outreach Coalition – the Andrey Rylkov Fund (Moscow), regional public organization “Humanitarian Project” (Novosibirsk) and regional public organization “ARK – AntiAIDS” (Rostov-on-Don). Financial support for the research was provided by AFEW International in the framework of the “Young, Wild and … free?” project. AFEW International в рамках проекта «Молодые, дикие и … свободные?».

What is Young, wild and… free?

“Young, wild and…free” is a project implemented by AFEW International together with four other BRIDGING THE GAPS: HEALTH & RIGHTS FOR KEY POPULATIONS partnersAFEW, MPACT Global, Mainline и Aidsfonds). The project aims at sharing and scaling the best practices in reaching youth within the Bridging the Gaps program and optimising HIV/SRHR related services for and engagement of young people in all elements of work. The program involves young community researchers from Russia, Vietnam, Kenya and South-Africa, representing key populations – young people who use drugs, sex workers and LGBTQ. The program started in March 2020 with a kick-off training for the Young, Wild and Free program, which took place in Amsterdam.

Sex Workers. Problems and solutions.

Within the research, regional public organization “ARK – AntiAIDS” was working to define problems of sex workers in Rostov-on-Don city, as well as their solutions. The main difficulties of sex workers turned out to be a lack of information about organizations providing HIV / SRHR prevention services (no advertising in the city); lack of services provided by state medical institutions; inaccessibility of HIV prevention services in state medical institutions for migrants on the territory of the Russian Federation (treatment, regular tests); high prices for services provided by private medical clinics.

Based on these problems, specialists developed some solutions for NGO to improve the situation. It was offered to introduce STI testing on the basis of a non-profit organization; to post information about HIV prevention services in polyclinics, antenatal clinics, private medical clinics; to post information about HIV prevention services on city facades, in public transport, in elevators, on billboards; to conduct large-scale events with the assistance of government agencies (AIDS Center, Ministry of Health) in shopping centres, at city events (City day, Youth day); to promote the website of the AIDS Centre on the Internet and to promote information from public and government organizations through bloggers, pop stars, movies.

Better promotion among MSM

The nesessity to promote test servises better among MSM via different social media, as well as other relevant projects for this key population was also mentioned in the research by the “Humanitarian Project” organization. During the research, specialists found out that MSM usually are not aware about all projects and services of the “Humanitarian Project”. Also, there is no sufficient effectiveness of communication through social networks. Lack of events, the format of which will be attractive and comfortable for young MSM, was also discovered.

Such a way, some recommendations were developed for “Humanitarian Project” and other organizations working with MSM. The researchers found important to advertise services in profile groups for gay dating in social networks and on websites with ads; to increase in the volume of targeted advertising on social networks (mainly on VKontakte and Instagram) of testing services and leisure activities as the most demanded by the community, to conduct professional media campaigns with the involvement of specialists in the field of PR, marketing and advertising; to implement of the practice of mass surveys on the needs for services and activities among young MSM; to work actively with opinion leaders (popular bloggers, club owners, drag queens, etc.), including on a commercial basis; to increase in the volume of targeted advertising on social networks (mainly on VKontakte and Instagram) of testing services and leisure activities as the most demanded by the community.

For people who use drugs

PUD key population was also a key group in the research. During the in-depth interviews, the researcher identified a number of needs and barriers to receiving HIV and SRHR prevention services at a Moscow organization Andrey Rylkov Fund.

During the research it was found that people who use drugs have difficulties in accessing information on available services, and that young people have a lack of understanding of the importance of regular HIV testing.

That is why it was recommended to Andrey Rylkov Fund to pay more attention to workshops on HIV and harm reduction, dissemination of information about possible psychological assistance, creation of an easily accessible knowledge base about all the available services of the Fund, and create high-quality, relevant content on harm reduction and HIV prevention.

Representatives of key populations

Enlisting the help of members of key populations is very important during a community-based participatory research. The involvement of representatives of key populations as interviewers made it possible to use their expertise and lived experience in developing proposals for nongovernmental organizations providing services in the field of SRHR, HIV prevention and harm reduction. Also, it allowed to quickly establish contact and rapport with respondents during in-depth interviews and focus groups, being on the same wavelength with them.

Alexei Lahov, director of Outreach Coalition

This research helped NGOs to improve their work, to promote their services and reach more people. According to feedback from researchers, the Positive Strategies Project started paying more attention to the specifics of working with young key populations – for instance, young representatives of MSM key populations have joined the staff of the Humanitarian Project organization, which implements the project. Based on recommendations from respondents of in-depth interviews and focus groups, the Andrey Rylkov Foundation launched a psychological counselling service for people who use drugs, including young PWID. NGO ARK – Anti-AIDS has become generally more active in working with young key populations, especially with members of the LGBT community.