Updated: Feb 23
HIV2020 aimed to reaffirm the role key populations and communities play in the global HIV response. In addition to achieving this goal, it made a strong case for further bolstering that role based on the growing need to focus on key populations to have any reasonable chance to successfully turn back the epidemic.
The primary themes and lessons learned from the four-month online event point to some strategic recommendations for strengthening and expanding the engagement and leadership of key populations and communities. They include the following:
Finding ways to increase investments for key population- and community-led organisations, groups, and networks domestically, regionally, and globally.
Stronger and more targeted efforts on decriminalisation of key populations at global and national levels.
Building and sustaining key population- and community-led monitoring and advocacy capacity and incorporating the findings into HIV policy and programming decisions at multilateral institutions, donors, government health and finance ministries, and other stakeholders.
Accepting and encouraging flexible and unconventional approaches by key population- and community-led organisations and group to reach out, inform, and support their peers.
Ensuring that key populations and communities are seen and engaged as full and equal partners and not solely or primarily as adversaries with unrealistic demands or expectations.
Removing policy and other barriers that prevent key populations and communities from participating meaningfully in all environments and spaces where HIV resources, policies, treatment and prevention, and financing are discussed.
These are not new proposals. Communities and key populations have been making them for years, if not decades – including at all International AIDS Conferences (IACs) that claim, unconvincingly, to fully accept and listen to them. But the proposals remain valid and deserve to be taken seriously and pursued by all actors in HIV responses. The urgency is even greater now in an era of rapid change in global health and development as priorities such as Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and COVID-19 erode attention on HIV.
The world needs communities and key populations to be stronger and better supported to take the next critical steps to reduce HIV as a public and individual health threat. HIV2020 Online has shown how and what can be done when communities lead and direct. If governments, donors, multilateral institutions, and other HIV stakeholders are serious about their stated desire and political will to end the epidemic, they must hand over the keys and the steering wheel so that key populations and communities can assume the driver’s seat.