2020 Bridging the Gaps Annual Report – A Year Like No Other

This has been a year like no other. In 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic profoundly changed the landscape of the HIV sector and greatly impeded global efforts to end AIDS by 2030. As countries went into lockdown, people from key populations – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs – were amongst those who most bore the brunt.

Key populations were already struggling to access employment, social protection, healthcare and education, and these challenges have been made worse by the pandemic’s socioeconomic consequences. National lockdowns and restrictions have reduced the number of people from key populations being reached with HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services, as people were afraid to seek healthcare, outreach workers could not operate in their communities, offices and clinics closed and workshops and advocacy meetings were cancelled.

The COVID-19 crisis is occurring in the midst of increasing government oppression and shrinking civic space in many countries, and in some instances the pandemic has been used to further repress rights. It has already been well documented that violence against women has significantly increased in 2020, linked to the closure of shelters and safe spaces due to COVID-19 restrictions.1 The number of people from key populations experiencing violence has also risen, and this includes an increase in violent deaths. These repressive environments continue to violate the human rights of key populations and limit their access to quality HIV and SRHR services.

From the beginning of Bridging the Gaps, access to flexible funding has allowed our partners to respond to shifting country contexts and communities’ changing priorities. Regular communication with staff, volunteers and other community members, not only in the programme’s final turbulent year but throughout its entire lifespan, has been crucial for thinking through strategies to address urgent needs and barriers and providing encouragement and support. This underlines the importance of considering the mental health and wellbeing of staff, volunteers and activists, who are the beating heart of any successful programme.

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