This is a guest blog post by Buck Buckingham, who has been the PEPFAR country coordinator for Kenya since 2003, when the program began.
I’m happy to see the 2009 HIV/AIDS Implementers’ Meeting break new ground by beginning to unpack subjects that either policy makers, or activists, or funders considered off limits for far too long.
We’re talking about value for money, not just more money, for AIDS programs. Unheard of until now. I also hear people talking about our prevention shortcomings with almost as much energy as they’re talking about highly-effective interventions like male circumcision.
This morning I moderated a panel that focused exclusively on the needs of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Africa, a first for this conference. MSM – like intravenous drug users or sex workers – have been particularly underserved or overlooked in Africa because their behavior is criminalized and highly stigmatized in most corners of the continent.
The panel included information on new WHO Guidelines that finally mention the sexual health needs of MSM, a program in Nigeria that taps MSM-led NGOs to encourage their peers to take better advantage of services, and an innovative program in Ghana that uses cell phones and SMS technology to confidentially tap into, inform, and protect this community.
The good news: We have new tools at our disposal to address unmet needs for MSM and other marginalized groups. The not-so-good news: With the global financial crisis, every penny in reach has to be focused on optimal results and it’s hard to fund “new” approaches in this context.
This requires a new discipline for many of us in the HIV world. But as someone who started way back at the beginning of the epidemic in 1984 when there was no money and the only thing we had in excess was crushing need and a mounting death toll, nothing mattered more than efficiency. This new environment can take us back to those days, where we had to get the most out of every precious dollar that came our way.