Bridging the Gaps – an alliance of nine international organisations and networks and more than 80 local and regional organisations in 15 countries – concluded activities in December 2020, after ten years of programming. From 2011 until 2020, we made significant contributions towards ending the AIDS epidemic among sex workers, people who use drugs and LGBT people around the world.
Our external evaluation confirmed that Bridging the Gaps was successful in reaching its long term goals: increasing access to essential HIV and other SRHR services for key populations, building strong movements, strengthening the capacities of community-led organisations to hold governments accountable, and advancing the human rights of key populations.
Stronger key populations
A robust and powerful sex worker movement is now in place in Bridging the Gaps countries, engaging in local, provincial, national and global platforms. During the programme, many sex worker organisations were established, grew and became recognised stakeholders. Alliance member Aidsfonds and its partners also formed innovative partnerships between sex workers and governments, law enforcers and healthcare workers. This led to the acknowledgement of the value of community services, such as those offered by HOYMAS in Kenya. Sex worker-led advocacy was supported by alliance partner NSWP through the development of advocacy tools. The NSWP methodology ensures that the development of such tools was community-led, reflecting and documenting the lived experiences of sex workers and sex worker-led organisations around the world.
Alliance partners COC and MPact have supported in-country partner organisations to offer inclusive health services and empower LGBT people to seek healthcare. COC partners offered training to government HIV clinic staff and ensured the formal recognition of LGBT organisations , while engaging with the UN human rights system . MPact worked to strengthen the capacity of over 6,000 healthcare providers and other professionals. As a result, more than 10,000 gay and bisexual men now receive stigma-free and discrimination-free healthcare services.
The Bridging the Gaps programme enabled Alliance partner GNP+ and its national networks to be more deliberately inclusive of diverse communities of people living with HIV. They have been able to use their evidence-gathering tools – such as Human Rights Count! and the PLHIV Stigma Index – to gather data that speaks to the specific experiences of HIV+ key population members, and to turn policy into action.
Alliance partner AFEW International successfully worked on increasing access to health and psychosocial services for young people who use drugs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They did so by setting up peer support and family support initiatives, as well as developing a tool to register and report rights violations. AFEW also coordinated regional activities and raised awareness among labour migrants, specifically those who use drugs, in order to improve their health. One of the achievements in the Bridging the Gaps programme that stands out for Alliance partner INPUD involved organising training and learning exchange for activists in the EECA region on Global Fund transition and movement building. The training also focused on empowerment, human rights, and service provision from a community perspective. The Bridging the Gaps programme has facilitated Alliance partner Mainline and its partners to design, implement and scale up innovative projects for those whose needs are often overlooked or are hard to reach with regular harm reduction programmes. These include non-injecting people who use drugs, people who use stimulants and women who use drugs, as well as the spouses of people who use drugs.
Bridging the Gaps concludes…. but the work is not done yet
In 2016, the global community agreed to work together to end AIDS by 2030. UNAIDS’ Fast-Track strategy recognised that investing in programming for key population communities is central to achieving this ambitious goal. However, key populations continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic, and they lack access to HIV prevention, treatment and care due to stigmatisation and criminalisation.
After a decade of collaboration, Bridging the Gaps has clearly confirmed that we will only end AIDS by focusing the response on those most affected, and we will only succeed if those communities are engaged at every level and playing a leading role in the response. We urge governments, donors and other funders to continue to support this approach.
Article by Julie McBride