Alliance denounces absence of community at WHA event on HIV prevention

Today, at the World Health Assembly, a high-level ministerial event reviewed the global progress being made on HIV prevention. UNAIDS also released a progress report tracking ‘Implementation of the HIV Prevention 2020 Road Map’, following the agreement by fast track countries to revisit prevention targets in October 2017. 

The report outlines progress, challenges and gaps in the 25 fast track countries with the highest number of new HIV infections. Despite some progress, the report shows an unacceptably slow rate of decline in the number of HIV infections, sending a sobering message to national governments, especially for people from key populations and young women, who are disproportionately affected by HIV. 

The Alliance is concerned that community voices were excluded from this event, which is symptomatic of the weak inclusion of civil society that we are hearing from our partners across the fast track countries. The Alliance has recently convened over 60 prevention champions from civil society and community groups to share and build knowledge and capacity to engage with the prevention Road Map in their countries. 

The lack of community engagement runs contrary to recent efforts by Dr Tedros, director general of the World Health Organisation, who has stressed the importance of health services being organised around communities and providing person-centred primary care.

Christine Stegling, executive director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance says: “It is unacceptable that key population groups – people who use drugs, sex workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and adolescents and young people including those living with HIV – are so often excluded from national HIV responses. The lack of accurate size estimations also shows how governments are failing to design and implement a prevention approach to meet the needs of key populations.” 

Pheobe Kanana MalindiPheobe Kanana is a woman who sells sex in Watamu, a tourist hotspot on the Kenyan coast. Many young girls visit the coast in hope of finding a rich man to take care of them and then fall into drugs and sex work to pay for their drug use. © Corrie Wingate for the Alliance

Members of civil society have campaigned tirelessly for meaningful engagement in national HIV prevention processes. This ensures the voices and expertise of communities are embedded into national and global response, so that the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ is fully realised in the global development agenda. 

Stegling adds: “A robust multi-stakeholder response is required if the Road Map is to deliver on its potential. This includes bold investment from governments and donors in community-led responses and a dismantling of structural barriers that criminalise and discriminate against some of the most marginalised members of our society. Until then, the prevention targets will remain unobtainable as those most affected by HIV fail to access free, high-quality prevention services.”