The arrival of wintertime in South Africa has not been able to cool down the III UNGASS-AIDS Forum discussions, held on June 8–9, in Cape Town. Twenty organizations – from HIV/AIDS, women, health and LGBT movements – participated in the event coordinated by MOSAIC, the meeting’s host, and Health Trust System, in partnership with Gestos, Brazil.
South Africa, with a population of 48 million, has a challenging HIV prevalence rate of 18.8%. Women have an infection rate of 55% of all cases. The AIDS epidemic has deeply marked South Africa in the past twenty years.
By specifically focusing in the sexual and reproductive health of women in the country, the Executive Coordinator of MOSAIC, Marieta de Vos, opened the UNGASS-AIDS Forum bringing up the importance of having civil society monitoring the goals accorded to by the government at the UNGASS-AIDS 2001. She also pointed out the goals of producing a research report, and an advocacy plan, in order to achieve better monitoring in the country. “We will put together a clear advocacy plan to keep the government accountable for sexual and reproductive health, what civil society can do, how we can work together with them, and how we can get issues in the map,” she said.
Marion Stevens, the coordinator of Health Trust Systems, highlighted that many advances in the AIDS field have been achieved since 2007, when the I UNGASS-AIDS Forum was held and few organizations acknowledged the declaration signed in 2001. She also highlighted that strategies have been discussed to strengthen the policies of SRH and HIV/AIDS locally. “We ought to: strengthen collaboration between SRH and HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations in the country; get SRH and rights into the agendas of AIDS policy discussions; develop advocacy actions toward the next high level meeting on UNGASS-AIDS in 2010; follow the ICPD+15 – International Commission on Population and Development – implementation; actively participate in the XVIII international AIDS Conference Vienna, in 2010; and build further international momentum for the inclusion of SRH and rights as a priority area”, said Stevens.
The presence of UNAIDS, represented by Henry Damisoni, M&E Officer, reinforced the importance of the UNGASS-AIDS Forum initiative. He defended the participation of civil society in the elaboration of country report, which will be presented in 2010, and also in the delegation that will go to the next UNGASS-AIDS High Level Meeting, in New York, as a way to strengthen the policies in the country. “We must have a single country response; and this response should not be divided by civil society and government. The goal is that UNGASS should serve the interests of the country as a whole, not only a process of exporting data to the UN. Initially UNGASS-AIDS was created to encourage governments to commit, but over time, the process has evolved from the government focus to a wider focus, showing how the country as a whole was responding to AIDS,” said Mr. Damisoni.
In the second part of the event, the country 2008 reports prepared by the government and by civil society were reviewed by the participants in order to put everyone on the same level of understanding and to analyze the strong and weak points the new monitoring effort should focus on. This was an important discussion for the second day of work that focused primarily on the analysis of the research tool that will be utilized to prepare the 2010 CS Report. The organizations divided the roles of the research, according to the subject of each theme. The aim is to prepare a high quality document to send to UNAIDS as a shadow report or as an annex of the country report, in the case the South African government accepts to include it.
Finally, after so much political and technical baggage, the groups defined some issues for the Advocacy Plan: cervical cancer, sterilization and medical abortion, were the main issues brought up. Part of the strategies includes data collection and “advocacy alerts” to be sent to government personnel, partners and media. A discreet set of communication tools will be used to try and reach as many people as possible, such as cell phone messaging, electronic discussion lists and press releases.
The IV UNGASS-AIDS Forum will be held in South Africa before the submission of civil society’s report to Gestos, in December. At this moment they will analyze what has been achieved thus far and strengthen their actions towards the UNGASS HLM in 2010.