By Niluka Perera
It’s 2016, 35 years in to the HIV response and we are still repeating the same rhetoric over and over again. In a satellite session organized by the PEPFAR titled “ Leaving no one behind; How to bring key populations HIV services to scale” the rhetoric on breaking the silence, ending AIDS by 2030 and holding the governments accountable to the commitments were yet again uttered.
Shortly after the High level Meeting on HIV where the political will clearly failed to recognize key populations, young key populations, decriminalization, CSE and sexual rights, its ironic to hear the rhetoric “we will end AIDS by 2030” being repeated at high level sessions when we are clearly not heading in that direction in terms of political will or the investments to communities.
A 100 million investment on key populations is commendable and requires our praise. Yet what we need to question is where was this political will when a weak political declaration was been adopted, when certain countries opposed to all language on key populations, when certain countries mentioned that drug users need to be criminals or when no recognition was given to young key populations.
It is in these moments, we as civil society need to come together to answer the question raised by panelist Maureen Milanga, Health GAP Kenya, “how do we hold our selves accountable to this human rights imperative”. Even though we do not have an abundance of data on key populations, the story is still very clear. The epidemic is concentrated within key populations. Criminalization fuels the epidemic and investments in the communities are shrinking.
It is time that UN and the member states accept and acknowledged that we have been successful in leaving communities behind. PEPFAR in this context shoulders a hefty responsibility to ensure that the damage already done is mitigated. As panelist Joanne Keatley from the Center for Excellence for Transgender Health, University of California has rightfully raised, PEPFAR can still chose to leave communities behind if the 100 million investment is not targeted at communities. PEPFAR can still chose to leave communities behind if the investment does not focus on young key populations who face additional barriers not only in accessing HIV services but also investments to sustain the response for them.
As Charlize Theron mentioned during her remarks at the opening ceremony, it’s the next generation that will end AIDS. Its crucial that the next generation is brought to the front line of the HIV and human rights response towards key populations and people living with HIV. It is essential that PEPFAR ensures the 100 million investment would commit it self to this human rights imperative.