Ending the HIV epidemic: Empty Slogan or not?
I am increasingly convinced that a key role of civil society organisations is to hold governments to their commitments. Saul Alinsky, the grand-daddy of community organising had his Rules for Radicals. Rule 4 states: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” While the term ‘enemy’ can seem harsh, the message of holding someone to his/her own rules and commitments is still a fundamental tactic in the struggle for greater social justice.
In the field of HIV, as in many others, governments have a history of meeting in grand cities around the world to make various public commitments. UN buildings in New York and Geneva were featured in the international adoption of various HIV commitments over 2015 and 2016, e.g., the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 3 on Health), the Fast-Track Strategy, the World Health Assembly strategies, and the Political Declaration. There were photo ops and fanfare. However, what is too often missing are sturdy mechanisms for holding these same governments to their commitments. As a result, many civil society representatives can become cynical about these events and their promises.
In July, 2016, The Kaiser Foundation and UNAIDS reported that HIV donations fell in 2015 for the first time in 5 years by an average 13%. Kaiser Family Foundation Vice President Jen Kates, Director of Global Health and HIV Policy, noted:
“Donors faced many competing funding demands, including humanitarian emergencies and the refugee crisis, all against a backdrop of fiscal austerity in a number of countries. Looking ahead, donor funding for HIV remains uncertain as leading donors face changes in political leadership and the world is still digesting the effects of Brexit.”
The stage is set for governments to hide their lack of political will behind the argument that there is no money to deliver on their commitments. This is besides the fact that countries spent US $18 trillion in one year to bail out financial institutions during the harsh times right after the 2008 financial crisis, i.e., equivalent to 930 times more than spent on the total global HIV response in 2015.
In holding governments to their HIV-related commitments, civil society needs to focus more on at least two accountability strategies:
- Monitor and publicise how well governments implement their international commitments.
- Monitor and publicise how well governments align their own local/national strategies with their international commitments.
We need to become more familiar with the international HIV commitments made by our governments. And we also need to get savvier about tracking how our governments deliver on what they promised, both internationally and nationally.
The stakes are high: ending the HIV epidemic by 2030, saving over 10 million lives and avoiding over 17 million new HIV infections.