Love is in the air, and not just because it’s Valentine’s Day. This month work has begun on an exciting new advocacy programme, the Love Alliance, that will build a pan African movement that unifies key population movements and amplifies their diverse voices to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of the most marginalised people affected by HIV.
The woman driving this new initiative for GNP+ is Florence Riako Anam. If you speak to Florence it is clear why she is the perfect women for the job. “There is no school to learn about advocacy, it starts from feeling passionate about an issue.” And what is Florence passionate about? Treating people with respect. I know first-hand what it means to be excluded and how difficult it can be to access information and health services.” She has seen people living with HIV and key population communities prove that they can make a valuable contribution to the HIV response and their own positive health outcomes but she believes we still need to do much more to build an enabling environment around them. “I believe we can achieve great things and lead full lives, but we must be empowered to access our agency. We also need to remind ourselves of what we are capable of, build our confidence.”
Her person-centred approach is reflected in the Love Alliance. At the heart of the programme is a belief that medical solutions alone cannot eliminate HIV, instead focus needs to shift from the disease to the person, so that we can respond to the needs of people who are affected by HIV. We also need to address the social drivers of the epidemic, those things that make it impossible for people to access HIV prevention or treatment services including violence, stigma and discrimination as well as punitive laws that continue to decriminalize HIV transmission or people for their sexual identities and lifestyle choices.
So, what will the Love Alliance actually do? Across Africa, communities of people who use drugs, sex workers, LGBTQI+ people and people living with HIV, will be strengthened to come together and build movements to advocate for change. Community organisations will receive funding and support to fight for their rights and promote access to SRHR. For Florence, the Love Alliance “is about building from community level, identifying common issues and tackling them together. The opportunity to amplify community voices is exciting for me.”
The programme will begin in ten African countries* but, as Florence explains, it aims to make an impact further afield as well: “In each country, communities will identify the issues that are important to them for advocacy. GNP+ will pull together the advocacy themes and make connections with the broader development agenda, using evidence gathered in countries to feed in to regional and global level advocacy around SRHR.”
Florence herself is a seasoned activist and knows all about the power of advocacy. She first became involved in a women’s HIV network in Kenya in 2006 and soon found herself leading their advocacy and communications. Years later, she spearheaded the advocacy and communication portfolio for the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) amplifying effective representation of women living with HIV and their communities on issues including access to HIV prevention and treatment, maternal health, reproductive rights, equality and social justice and education access for women and girls. More recently Florence was the HIV/TB Advocacy coordinator for the Africa region for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Throughout her career, Florence has strived to build a world where people are not only healthy but live to their best potential. She says, “I started work at country level just looking for space for people like me to be recognised as human beings at a time when HIV stigma was really high in my country and many people were dying because of it. There has been so much progress over the years, particularly with treatment, but as the disease and science have evolved so has the stigma. Now it is less blatant more subtle, more systemic and more punitive for so many communities particularly key populations. We know community interventions can help to remove these systemic barriers, they have been shown to be effective, but they are not well supported or funded. The Love Alliance programme is a step in the right direction, I am certain it will make a huge difference.”
About the Love Alliance
The Love Alliance is a five-year programme that brings GNP+ together with thought leaders (networks of people who use drugs, sex workers and the LGBTQI+ community), grant makers and the Dutch administrative lead, AIDSfonds. Look out for more information and the official launch soon, see our webpage https://gnpplus.net/project/love-alliance/
* South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Morocco