US Event Communities Deliver - The Critical Role of Communities in ending AIDS

February 29, 2016

On February 24th, STOP AIDS NOW! / Aids Fonds, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and UNAIDS organized a high level panel discussion in Washington DC to profile the critical importance of the community-led response in ending AIDS.

Goal of the meeting was to profile the critical role communities in all their diversity play in mobilizing communities, providing information and services including to the hard to reach. Yet, the community-led response to HIV is severely underfunded and supported across the world. What is needed to build the capacity of communities and involving them as strong and well-resourced partners in the national AIDS response? What are the recommendations to donors such as PEPFAR, national governments, and civil society to meaningfully invest in communities to bring an end to AIDS?

The audience consisted of senior level U.S. Government representatives, U.S. implementing partners, including MsH, FHI360, JSI and EGPAF. Other participants included senior staff from Embassies, including the Netherlands, Zambia, and Namibia, and DC based UN agency staff and civil society organizations. 

"The Community Deliver event exceeded my expectations! Around 65 people attended and the event was not just high level but due to seniority programmatic as well. All were actively engaged in the dialogue." - Yvette Fleming, STOP AIDS NOW!

"We cannot allow ourselves to fail"

Marielle Hart (Stop AIDS Alliance) opened the Community Deliver meeting by stating that we are at a crucial moment in the AIDS response and that we cannot end AIDS without a fully supported and resourced community-led response.

The first panel underlined that we have gone off trackin enabling communities to continue to play that critical role and that we have to re-invest in the community response if we want to bring an end to AIDS. We cannot allow ourselves to fail.

Panelist Dr. Simao (UNAIDS) stated that after more than 30 years of responding to AIDS, we have once again come to the realization that communities deliver results. They can provide greater impact and better health outcomes than public health systems alone.

Ambassador Birx (U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator) made avery clear statement that we all know how valuable civil society and communities are for an effective response, yet we are not funding the ones that are advocating on behalf of those left behind. In addition, she mentioned the U.S. Government support to the Robert Carr Network Fund as an important means to invest in regional civil society networks.

Dr.Okello (Deputy Directorof Health Services, Ministry of Health Swaziland) shared the reality on the ground from a national government perspective informing us that it has not been easy in Swaziland to develop capacities of community based organizations and we continue to learn. Despite the complexities of working with communities, she stressed that we cannot give up on any one or on any group. 

Investing in communities as an approach

The second panel discussed the challenges and opportunities of the community response in diverse settings such as Southern Africa and Mexico.

Panelist Ms. Lois Chingandu (Executive Director SAfAIDS Zimbabwe) urged us to realize that we cannot realistically expect communities to deliver if we are not resourcing them adequately and enable them to grow professionally. Juan Jacobo Hernandez talked about the challenges middle income countries such as Mexico face when donors pull out and communities working with marginalized populations are left on their own.

Ms. To Tjoelker (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Netherlands) stressed how the Netherlands have taken a bold decision as a small bilateral development partner to fill a gap by investing in capacity building and advocacy of local communities and civil society organizations in partner countries. Their strategic partners have been allocated grants based on track records and theories of change instead of the traditional log and results framework approach.

Louise van Deth (STOP AIDS NOW!) in her closing remarks explained that investing in communities should not be seen as an intervention but as an approach that requires long-term partnership building and sustained funding, critical to ending AIDS.