Kenyan activist urges parliament to leave no one behind

By Casper Erichsen

On Wednesday 11 July, a committed group of supporters came together in London, united behind an important, common goal. The venue was the Houses of Parliament but those gathered were ready to discuss matters much more important than England’s World Cup semi-final.

<p>Casper and Grace at parliament launch of No One Left Behind report</p>Activist Grace Kamau and Alliance head of influence Casper Erichson at the launch report in parliament 
© Revanta Dharmarajah for International HIV/AIDS Alliance

The anticipation was high among the assembled MPs, Lords and HIV activists as the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS (APPG) launched its long-awaited report on countries transitioning from international donor support to domestic financing for HIV programmes.

The report, No One Left Behind, was the result of a 20-month inquiry into the impact of funding transitions on key populations affected by HIV (such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, sex workers, and injecting drug users) and adolescent girls and young women. It sets out key recommendations for donor governments, including the UK, on assessing countries’ readiness to transition from donor support and how to ensure vital programmes for key populations and adolescent girls and young women are not put at risk by unsuccessful transition.

Kenyan activist in parliament

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance and StopAIDS worked with the APPG throughout the inquiry. Alongside written and oral evidence, we arranged a visit for APPG members to Kenya to see for themselves the impact of targeted HIV programming in a country that is beginning its preparations for transition.

Following the visit, we produced a report which resulted in several Kenyan community members being invited to give oral submissions to the APPG via a video link. One of the organisations that joined this call was the Kenyan Key Populations Consortium. It is one of the Kenyan partners in our Dutch-Funded PITCH programme, and is led by Grace Kamau, a renowned activist both in Kenya and the Eastern Africa region.

Grace joined the No One Left Behind report launch in parliament, carrying the voices of thousands as she delivered an eloquent and heartfelt speech. She spoke of her experiences as a sex worker and the discrimination that she and others in key populations have faced in her country. “We are evicted from our homes and treated as outcasts,” she said.

Grace’s message was clear – she and others had fought hard and won the right to dedicated services and these must be protected, whether in the context of universal health coverage or funding transitions. She closed her powerful speech with a warning, as she said: “When it comes to transitions, key populations are always the biggest losers.”

Every policy has consequences

Grace’s words are a reminder that every policy has consequences and that donors and implementers carry a responsibility to get the right support in place to ensure programmes continue after they have left.

In the report, the APPG does not mince its words and my hope is that all stakeholders act on its recommendations. In her speech – the last of the evening – Claire Moran, head of human development at the Department for International Development, acknowledged the report’s findings, and gave a nod to Grace’s speech. She said: “We want to support the Global Fund to transition responsibly, but we acknowledge that things are not always straightforward. And it is right to challenge us on that, especially on human rights. We must be sensitive to the needs of key populations.”

The event drew to a close shortly before kick off in the England v Croatia match. As we watched the big screen in the most surreal surrounding that I have ever seen a game, I was minded of Bill Shankly’s quote that: “Football is not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that.” Having had the privilege of visiting Kenyan communities and hearing Grace speak at the event, this lifelong Liverpool fan had to respectfully disagree.