National key populations plan launched in Zimbabwe

National key populations plan launched in Zimbabwe

By Lloyd Dembure, PITCH country focal point in Zimbabwe

A significant step towards ensuring key populations in Zimbabwe have access to HIV services has been taken with the recent launch of a National Key Populations HIV and AIDS Implementation Plan.

The plan is a pre-cursor to developing a Key Populations Strategic Plan when the current national AIDS strategy ends in 2020. It describes the barriers that gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender and intersex people, people who use drugs, and prisoners face to access services, and outlines interventions required to address them. It also acknowledges the lack of evidence around key populations and sets out priorities for research.

The plan is a breakthrough in Zimbabwe where key populations groups have largely been ignored in the government-led HIV response. Previously a domain for civil society organisations, key populations interventions will now have the government’s and the national AIDS council’s support.

PITCH partners Gay and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN), SAfAIDS, Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), Zimbabwe National Network of People living with  HIV (ZNNP+) and Batanai HIV and AIDS Support Organisation (BHASO) played an important role in delivering this plan, with their continuous lobbying of the government to develop a national strategy for key populations. Their recognition as credible and representative community-led organisations also secured them an important space to participate in consultation processes and serve as reference organisations during the plan’s development.

In particular, PITCH influence through ZCLDN was instrumental in ensuring that people who use drugs were identified as a key population in the plan, and that their need for e.g. harm reduction services was acknowledged. Importantly, the plan recognises the negative effects of criminalisation (of sex workers and homosexuality) on access to services and vulnerability to violence and HIV, and calls for repealing laws criminalising key populations.

 

The implementation of the plan will act as a game changer if it manages to influence policy change on criminalisation of key populations, which remains one of the largest barriers to accessing services." Wilson Box, ZCLDN Director

 

However, a significant gap in the plan is the lack of accountability. For many – indeed most – interventions, there is no authority or organisation assigned as responsible. What needs to happen now is that the National AIDS Council must be brought to the table to spell out implementation modalities and assign clear responsibilities.

It is also unclear what budget from the national HIV response will be used to implement the plan, given that key population programming in Zimbabwe to date has been mostly donor funded, with little contribution from domestic sources.

Nevertheless, for PITCH partners the plan is an opportunity to advance their advocacy agenda for sex workers, LGBT people and people who use drugs. Because the plan talks about policy and law reform, it opens a window for advocates to engage with the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs to change the narrative around key populations from criminalisation to focusing on health and human rights. 

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