by Trisa Taro, Program Impact Manager from the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC)

Last week, at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) 2017, governments, global institutions, and activists from across Africa gathered in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

Shrinking space for civil society and key populations

As someone who has been to a fair share of AIDS conferences, I must admit that ICASA has its special own atmosphere – which is reflective of the region’s epidemic and the unique responses to it. What I found most distressing, however, was what seemed to be a shrinking space for civil society and key populations. Early in the week, activists were prevented from peacefully protesting both inside and outside the conference venue. The original action was meant to stand up to pharmaceutical companies that were enforcing patent barriers and keeping ARVs unaffordable; it quickly became evidence that the suppression of activism at the conference was also a large issue needing to be addressed. In response, more than 20 civil society organizations and activist groups issued a joint statement calling on the conference organizers to guarantee community voices are heard – now and in all future conferences.

“Activism is and should be an integral part of ICASA conferences and in no way should communities and civil society beg for space or for their voices to be peacefully heard.”

Differentiated service delivery

This tone could be felt through nearly each and every event – from the Global Village to special plenary sessions. At a satellite session focused on differentiated service delivery, community leaders claimed significant spotlight for the work they’re doing implementing models in their country.

“Differentiated service delivery has been around even before it was called “differentiated service delivery”. Communities have always joined together to get the treatment they need. But at least now the policies are there to support the communities to do that.”

Wame from ITPC launches the toolkit

Wame from ITPC launches the toolkit

Community-developed resources, such as What Works for Me: Activist Toolkit on Differentiated Service Delivery, will help empower PLHIV and key population communities to advocate for the services that accommodate their wants and needs.

 Community-led monitoring

Community-led monitoring also received significant spotlight during the conference, with projects like the Regional Community Treatment Observatory in West Africa advocating for key population-specific data.  While some groups are better captured by the health system, others remain unseen. Without this information – how can we reshape the health system to service communities better?

Mechanisms like community treatment observatories – which systematically collect data to monitor trends on treatment access along the HIV Cascade – generate evidence that can be used for targeted action.

Key population communities at the center of the response

This shift strives to put key population communities at the center of the response. Where they belong. In a way that works for them. In the lead up to AIDS 2018 in Amsterdam, initiatives like Bridging the Gaps will have an important role to play in ensuring that this shift sustains its moment.