Communities and UNAIDS: “Decisions about us are made for us without us”

10 July 2016

Sasha Volgina, a member of the NGO Delegation from the European region to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (UNAIDS PCB), shares impressions on the recently held 38th PCB meeting.

On June 28–30, 2016, the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) met for its regular, 38th meeting. On this meeting, the NGO Delegation was expected to present a report on sexual and reproductive health and rights of people most affected by HIV, so it was important that people have the opportunity to come and speak on their own behalf. As a delegate from our region, I am usually responsible for collecting feedback from communities on the issues raised at PCB meetings; but this time my particular goal was to ensure that communities actually come to participate in the meeting. NGOs were also featured in this PCB’s thematic segment, titled “The role of communities in ending AIDS by 2030.”

The following two key issues were brought up by delegates from EECA and other regions that are currently in transition from Global Fund support to domestic funds: (i) the lack of funding for community activities, including both services and advocacy; and (ii) ensuring a more meaningful community involvement after the GF’s withdrawal from the countries.

In his report presented to the Board on the first day, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, has focused on implications of the financial crisis and the lack of funding for UNAIDS. He said it was critical to sustain efforts and to support the [UNAIDS] strategy implementation. As Michel Sidibe pointed out, the Declaration [the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS], recently adopted by the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, was a true breakthrough and great achievement in the given context. In the meantime, the Delegation of NGOs and civil society rather believes that even though this Declaration might be the best possible result attainable in the current political situation, its overall language is weaker as compared to the UNAIDS Strategy.

Laurel Sprague, Global Network of People Living with HIV North America (GNP+ NA) from the United States, who was our Delegation’s representative, has presented a report on sexual and reproductive rights. Her presentation was full of pictures featuring real people from around the world who suffered from violations of their sexual and reproductive rights. The report was met with strong pushback from some members, particularly Iran and African countries with most conservative ideologies. It was followed with discussions on the side-lines of the meeting as to whether the NGO Delegation is generally entitled to make such reports and to suggest solutions.

NGO delegates from Eastern Europe and Central Asia involved Marcus Oda from the Eurasian Coalition on Male Health (ECOM), Lyuda Vince from the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD) and Ira Maslova from sex-workers community from Russia, and Maka Gogia from the Georgian Harm Reduction Network. Sergey Votyagov, EHRN Executive Director, who was a speaker at the thematic segment, has pointed out that harm reduction can hardly be incorporated into the state-run system, and in fact these programs are better to be done by communities. He recommended that investments should be made in advocacy alongside with service delivery, and that advocacy should be recognized important and inseparable from services. Serge spoke on the needs to work differently in advocacy to find new ways of investing in community capacity building, as well as to focus on improving advocacy efficiency. He shared some best practice examples from Latvia as well as Georgia (where a pregnant woman who uses drugs has been enrolled on OST) and Russia (a street lawyers initiative).

NGO delegates brought up an issue of community exclusion from the recently held 2016 High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. Marcus Oda commented on this: “By voting for the exclusion of our organization and other peer organizations, conservative governments make it clear that they do not care about the lives of MSM and transgender people, and they have no intention of responding to HIV epidemics in these populations.” Marcus said that without our participation, without a greater involvement of key populations any significant achievements are highly unlikely.

Maka Gogia explained it is challenging to work in an oppressive drug-policy national environment. Echoing Serge Votyagov’s remarks, she called on Mark Dybul from the Global Fund to invest in advocacy as much as they invest in services, and to make sure no country is left by GF until the sustainability of programs is ensured. She asked what would happen to their national testing program after the GF’s withdrawal from the country, but this question was not answered.

Lyudmila Vince from ENPUD told about challenges faced by people who use drugs in the EECA region: “Aggressive drug policy leaves no chance for us to participate in the decision-making processes. On any issues concerning us, decisions are made for us without us. Drug use criminalization is inefficient; quite the contrary, it contributes to the spread of HIV. We want to get involved in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the services designed for us, as we know better than anyone else what we need. More effort should be put into ensuring that women who use drugs are properly involved in these processes. Besides that, all services and facilities for people who use drugs should be built into the public service system. We call on the UNAIDS and member states to ensure that people who use drugs have channels for giving their feedback, and we want to be sure that this feedback is heard and used.”

And finally, good and not-so-good news: two important announcements were made within the thematic segment. The good news is that PEPFAR is going to provide funding for community support. And here is the bad news: according to Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund, GF still has no plans to provide funding to communities or grass-root organisations overall.

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