By Georgie Kane
Rapid Response Fund at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance
Within the first two months of its launch, a new emergency fund has already issued 24 grants in nine countries, keeping threatened HIV clinics open and protecting the activists that run them.
Today, on the eve of World AIDS Day, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance describes this new initiative, aimed at curtailing the destructive impact of stigma, discrimination and violence on the ability of LGBT people to access HIV services.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance report centres around its new $4 million Rapid Response Fund, which launched in October.
Funded by the Elton John Aids Foundation and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the fund offers emergency grants of up to $20,000 for civil society organisations in 29 countries where HIV services for LGBT people and men who have sex with men are under threat. Since its inception it has received more than 235 applications, showing the scale of the problems faced.
“In December last year our office was broken into,” says Brian Byamukama, from Mbale in Uganda, whose organisation RUMI provides condoms, HIV testing and other services for LGBT people in rural areas. “What little property and money we had was stolen but we believe their main intention was to steal confidential documentation about our clients, some of whom are living with HIV, and many of whom are not open about their sexuality.”
RUMI relocated to new offices earlier this year but mounting hostiility saw their second premises under threat. It was then that Brian contacted the Rapid Response Fund.
“Our new landlord had showed up and threatened us, which attracted quite a crowd. We hadn’t wanted to provoke the situation as we were worried about having our documents seized again and our clients exposed. So we just picked up what we could, the most important stuff, and carried it to my house.
“Within three weeks the Alliance had helped to relocate us somewhere bigger and less well known. We now have three rooms to work out of and the staff and our clients feel more comfortable.”
Among the 24 grants that the Rapid Response Fund has issued in nine countries, is a grant to the Sullivan Reed Society in Nairobi, Kenya, which specialises in the economic and social empowerment of LGBT people.
Sullivan Reed’s founder, Levis Nderitu, applied after hearing a group of young MSM had been beaten and ‘outed’, forcing many to go into hiding.
“The impact of this type of intimidation is huge,” says Levis. “We relocated all those in fear into a safe house and linked many of them up to LGBT-friendly health services. But lots of people who are LGBT will look at a situation like this and think ‘if I can’t even go and be happy in my own neighbourhood, around people who know me and have known me for a number of years, how do I then go to the hospital?’”
As well as issuing emergency grants, the Rapid Response Fund also supports initiatives that will have a longer-term impact on HIV services for LGBT people.
For example, in Kenya, Levis describes a longer-term project that he hopes will win support from the Rapid Response Fund:
“I’m looking at developing a mobile app that will enable people in Kenya’s five major cities to locate LGBT-friendly HIV services near them and I have applied to the Rapid Response Fund for help.
“Letting people know where they can access friendly services is vital. I’ve heard people describe how nurses call other nurses over during appointments to make an example of them. I’ve heard of young LGBT people having their parents called by medical staff. You can imagine how traumatising this is.”
Each request to the fund demonstrates how LGBT human rights abuses serve as a barrier to ending AIDS. Now more than ever it’s time for government leaders and philanthropists to join efforts to overcome the anti-LGBT stigma, discrimination and violence that is making the HIV epidemic worse.
To read the full report, visit rapidresponsefund.org.
Georgie Kane runs the Rapid Response Fund at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance
- Tanzania’s anti-gay effort raises risk of HIV rebound (November 2016, 76crimes.com)
- HIV in Ghana: Progress toward protecting vulnerable gays (October 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Archive of this blog’s articles about HIV / AIDS