Federal Government defunds Australia’s only national youth led sexual health organisation

Australian Pride Network YEAHAs young people’s Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) rates rise and condom use declines, the Federal Government have confirmed they are defunding Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS (YEAH) beyond 30 June 2016.

For over a decade Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS (YEAH) has established itself as Australia’s only National youth led and youth focused sexual health promotion organisation. YEAH’s core programs and activities advance the 8 key strategic components of the Federal Government’s national STI strategy and have pioneered young people’s participation and leadership in increasing access to quality, inclusive, age appropriate and youth friendly sexual health information.

Given over 75% of all STIs are occurring amongst young people aged 15-29 and a quarter of sexually active high school students have reported experiencing unwanted or coerced sex, we have to acknowledge it’s time to do more not less to support the empowerment of young people to develop the tools and skills they need to better navigate the physical, social and emotional aspects of their sexual health.

“Despite our efforts to highlight the Commonwealth and community investment that has enabled YEAH to build the largest and most established online and face to face reach around sexual health education with young people, the Health Minister’s Office and Departmental staff have stated they will not continue funding to sustain any of YEAH’s services post June 2016,” said Alischa Ross, YEAH CEO.

“For 11 years YEAH has consistently delivered highly effective youth led sexual health promotion for young Australians. The decision by the Federal Government to defund YEAH is nothing less than outrageous; why throw away all that has been invested in building a highly successful grassroots youth organisation that now sees upwards of 60 young people joining our online Red Aware campaign each week?”

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of young people who turn to YEAH for online sexual health information, the organisation trains and manages the Agents of YEAH program, a national network of young volunteers working tirelessly in their local communities to improve sexual health knowledge and health outcomes amongst their peers.

“Our teams of young volunteers are passionately motivated by wanting to create real and positive cultural change amongst their peers when it comes to sexual health and respectful relationships,” said Ross.

“The Health Minister is sending such a counter productive message to an army of willing young people lining up to volunteer to be trained in youth sexual health peer leadership, that suddenly their efforts to improve the inexcusable state of sexual health education is not valued.”

This is especially insulting since the funding that we have received to run programs in five states and territories is less than $500,000 per annum. Young people’s participation and leadership is absolutely critical to the success of establishing an improved sexual health and healthy relationship culture in Australia.”

“It can not and will not be achieved without the leadership of young people and YEAH is the driving force supporting this leadership. Defunding our programs will devastate the national network of young sexual health peer educators and dismantle their important and pioneering work in local communities.”

In February this year YEAH’s CEO was appointed by the Federal Health Minister, Sussan Ley, for a period of two years to provide expert advice as a member of her Ministerial Advisory Committee on Blood Borne Viruses and STIs (MACBBVS). This decision came just weeks before the same Minister sanctioned defunding YEAH.

For more information, visit: www.redaware.org.au for details.

Image: courtesy of Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS (YEAH)