Alexandra (Sasha) Volgina at GNP+ calls on UNAIDS board members to invest in and utilise HIV community expertise in COVID-19. UNAIDS 46th PCB – Agenda item #5, 25 June 2020.
IN THE FACE OF A NEW PANDEMIC, COMMUNITIES ARE LEADING THE WAY… AGAIN.
In country after country, we are seeing organisations of people living with HIV leading the response to COVID-19 in their communities. This is no surprise given the years of experience we have of responding to a global pandemic.
We are experts in challenging stigma and discrimination against those living with a virus.
We are experts in promoting health-seeking and health-protecting behaviour amongst marginalised populations.
And we are experts in understanding the latest science and using it to protect ourselves and others.
We have unrivalled reach in communities– because we are of the communities.
We appreciate UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima’s straight talk , “Even before COVID-19 we were not on track to meet our targets for 2020. Now the COVID-19 crisis risks blowing us way off course.” We simply cannot let this happen. Now more than ever, the world needs the creativity and leadership of the HIV movement.
Getting back on track urgently requires strong leadership and political commitment but most of all it needs meaningful partnership with communities. Governments must urgently deliver on their promise that “at least 6% of HIV resources are allocated for social enabling activities”. These activities include “advocacy, community and political mobilization, community monitoring, public communication, and outreach programmes for rapid HIV tests and diagnosis, as well as for human rights programmes such as law and policy reform, and stigma and discrimination reduction”.
Even with limited resources, we are ready and eager to support COVID-19 and HIV responses. During April and May of this year we surveyed networks of people living with HIV and community organisations to understand more about their experiences during COVID-19.
Their replies showed the critical role that community-led organisations are already taking. In the face of massive challenges created by the pandemic, community-led organisations are exposing stock-outs and supporting incredible procurement efforts, taking care of those stuck abroad with no access to treatment and delivering ARVs sometimes at great cost to our own mental and physical health.
Their interventions go way beyond treatment. They are offering critical psychosocial support services and reliable information online, via social media or over the phone and finding ways to support people in financial difficulty, many of them marginalised people left out by government social security schemes.
Networks of people living with HIV have the skills and expertise to contribute to the national COVID-19 response and some governments have already invited them to help. Others must follow.
We are experienced at gathering evidence to understand the lived experiences of people in our communities and we know how to frame and deliver prevention messages. Above all, we are determined to prioritise the needs of the most marginalised people and leave no one behind.
We – as organisations led by and rooted in communities – are best placed to do this vital work. Fund us and support us to do it.
We welcome the establishment of the multi-stakeholder task team, and we hope to contribute significantly, as we are the ones who best understand how to reach and mobilise our communities. We stand ready to work together with other stakeholders to make this group successful and rely on UNAIDS to lead the process in an open, inclusive and effective manner to achieve rapid and substantive progress.
Amidst this global crisis, we call on you to engage our networks and communities and use our expertise to strengthen the HIV and the COVID-19 responses at national and global levels.
Alexandra (Sasha) Volgina on behalf of GNP+