Combined HIV/STI programme in Switzerland

Linking sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV in Switzerland

Von Susanne Rohner / SEXUELLE GESUNDHEIT Schweiz

For quite a period of time, the linkages of sexual and reproductive health & HIV/Aids were not considered to be obvious and services were provided separately. What for example has maternal health, a public health issue that was for a long time neglected, to do with an infectious disease spreading worldwide?


The majority of HIV infections are sexually transmitted or associated with pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Moreover, poor sexual and reproductive health and HIV/Aids share at global level common root causes like poverty, gender inequality, gender-based violence, human rights violations, marginalization of vulnerable populations, stigma and discrimination. (Sexual and Reproductive Health & HIV/AIDS. A Framework for Priority Linkages, edited by IPPF, WHO, UNFPA and UNAIDS in October 2005) Nowadays, the importance of linking sexual and reproductive health & HIV/Aids is widely recognized. International organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNAIDS have developed comprehensive resource material on the topic. (www.srhhivlinkages.org)

Greater support for dual protection

PLANeS, the Swiss Foundation for Sexual and Reproductive Health, who is accredited member of IPPF, is promoting the concept of linking sexual and reproductive health (SRH) & HIV in Switzerland. Also in Switzerland the linkage of SRH & HIV can result in benefits like improved access to HIV and SRH services, greater support for dual protection against unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STI) including HIV, better understanding and protection of individual’s rights and better anchorage of services in broader context of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In Switzerland, approaches to improve SRH and to prevent and treat HIV/Aids have moved closer together in the past years, which is apparent both on program and on structure and service level. In December for example, a new National Programme for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections 2011-2017 was launched with several interesting innovations: For the first time, the programme includes other Sexually Transmitted Infections in addition to HIV. Its vision innovatively refers to sexual rights and the promotion of sexual health in Switzerland. Moreover, PLANeS, as the umbrella organisation of the Swiss family planning centres and with expertise in sexual and reproductive health, is partner for the implementation of this HIV/STI programme. This new task has also reinforced the collaboration between PLANeS and the Swiss Aids Federation.

Collaboration, integration and mergers

The family planning centres in the cantons are already offering integrated services which aim to prevent both unintended pregnancies and HIV and other STI. The code of practices used by the professionals of the family planning centres as guideline for the counselling, is consistently integrating HIV/STI prevention into SRH services. Based on the sexual rights, the overall goal is the promotion of sexual health and the prevention of both unintended pregnancies and STI including HIV. The new federal law on prevention and health promotion, on which the National Council and the Council of States will vote, could provide a legal basis to better anchor sexual and reproductive health in Switzerland. That’s why a broad alliance of public health organisations, including PLANeS, is supporting the law.

The canton of Valais can serve as an example of how the integration of services is working. In the Valais, the hospitals were assigned by the canton to offer HIV testing. In 2006 they established collaboration with the family planning centres and invited them to offer the rapid test combined with counselling for the general public. The collaboration showed several benefits like easy access to the already established family planning centres at several locations throughout the canton. Moreover, a larger target group could be reached and HIV could be embedded in the broader SRH context.

The canton of Vaud even went further. At the beginning of 2011, the HIV/Aids services of the local aids organization and the family planning centres merged creating a new centre of competences for the prevention of HIV/STI. The new centre is part of Profa, the family planning association, which is offering a wide array of services in SRH. The centre is also responsible for the implementation of the new national programme of HIV and other STI in the canton of Vaud.

The examples in Switzerland demonstrate that SRH & HIV/Aids have to be linked and integrated at different levels. How far the linkage should go depends on the context. However, the linkage all-over has positive effects and sexual and reproductive health and rights can be reinforced.

*Susanne Rohner is the Advocacy officer of PLANeS. Contact: susanne.rohner@plan-s.ch

PLANeS, the Swiss foundation for sexual and reproductive health, is the national umbrella organisation of the Swiss family planning centres. PLANeS is accredited member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a global service provider and leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. PLANeS promotes comprehensive sexuality education in Switzerland. Moreover, PLANeS is active in the formation of professionals in SRHR. PLANeS also organizes the meetings of the parliamentary group CAIRE+. In this context, PLANeS closely cooperates with UNFPA and the European Parliamentary Forum. Furthermore, PLANeS is collaborating partner of Countdown 2015 Europe. www.plan-s.ch