Johannesburg, South Africa – More than 50 members of the Africa Key Population Experts Group gathered this week in Johannesburg to take stock of progress since the group’s inception four years ago, and explore strategies to ensure that HIV, health and rights programming under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is inclusive of men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who use drugs and sex workers.
Organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Africa HIV, Health and Development team, this was the Fifth Africa Key Population Experts Group Meeting since 2013. The theme of the meeting was ‘Four years on – How to make the SDGs work for key populations’.
“Widespread stigma and discrimination, punitive legal environments, barriers to civil society engagement and lack of investment in tailored programmes combine to present a significant challenge,” said Dr. Nelly Mwaka, HIV and Gender Manager at UNDP South Africa. “It is therefore very clear in our minds that such a situation requires sustained expertise and commitment to come up with innovative strategies for making comprehensive HIV services available and accessible by key populations.”
The most recent UNAIDS Global AIDS Update noted that there has been remarkable progress in Africa since 2010, especially in the eastern and southern subregions. The data indicates that AIDS-related deaths have declined by 42 percent and new HIV infections by 29 percent. However, available evidence shows that key populations continue to bear a disproportionately high burden of HIV infections. In sub-Saharan Africa, key populations and their sexual partners accounted for 25 percent of new HIV infections in 2015. Outside of the sub-Saharan Africa region, this figure is 80 percent.
“We believe in the principle of ‘Nothing For Us Without Us’,” said Barbra Wangare Muruga, Executive Director at East Africa Trans Health & Advocacy Network (EATHAN), Kenya. “It is imperative that people from key population groups are included in all aspects of the HIV response – be it research, programme implementation, and making decisions on strengthening our communities and sustainable financial and technical support.”
The main focus of the meeting was to understand how the SDGs and targets are linked to HIV prevention and sexual health and rights of key populations, and to explore strategies for increased engagement of the experts group in the SDG processes at all levels.
“People from the key populations communities are often the frontline advocates in the HIV response,” said John Kashiha, Programme Director, CHESA, Tanzania. “It’s more important now than ever that we are not left behind in the implementation of the 2030 development agenda. If we are to end the HIV epidemic, we must make it a priority to ensure inclusion of key populations at every level of the response.”
Through the Africa Key Population Experts Group, experts from across the Africa continent meet regularly to share and learn from each other’s collective experiences and interventions to advance the engagement of key populations in the HIV response. At each meeting, updates are also provided on the latest national, regional and global developments, and scientific data and evidence.
“The Africa Key Populations Experts Group has been particularly valuable for the networks working with people who use drugs,” said Nelson Medeiros, Programme Manager at Step Up Project, South Africa. “It has allowed us to develop strategies in collaboration with other key population groups to drive a united agenda. By learning from and speaking with other experts over the past few years, it has also expedited the growth of our own organization tremendously.”
The meeting also gives members an opportunity to share examples of results that have emerged in their countries stemming from engagement with the group. In 2014, the group developed the Model Regional Strategic Framework on HIV for Key Populations in Africa, which has since been widely used at national and regional levels as an advocacy tool and to inform policies, strategic plans and programme interventions.
“The group serves as a platform for collective advocacy to promote meaningful involvement of key populations at the regional level, and this has also been replicated at the national level in many of our countries,” said Kyomya Macklean, Executive Director at Alliance of Women Advocating for Change, Uganda. “We are now seeing concrete results. For example, in my home country of Uganda, we used the Model Regional Strategic Framework to inform the writing process of Concept Note for the Global Fund national programme, to advocate for representation of community groups on the Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism, and to influence the establishment of a Key Populations Hub at the UNAIDS Country Office with a dedicated focal person.”
With a view to the future, the participants agreed on action points to strengthen the accountability of the members to better achieve the group’s objectives, as well as mechanisms to improve internal and external communication.
The Fifth Africa Key Population Experts Group Meeting was jointly supported by UNDP through the Africa Regional Grant on HIV: Removing Legal Barriers, the Strengthening Legal and Policy Environments for Reducing HIV Risk and Improving SRH for Young Key Populations in South Africa Programme, and the Strengthening Regional and National Legislative Environments to Support the Human Rights of LGBT People and Women and Girls affected by HIV and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa Project.