The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) is dedicated to advocating for equitable access to effective HIV prevention, care, and treatment services tailored to the needs of gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), while promoting their health and human rights worldwide. Initiated in 2006 by a group of concerned activists, academics and program implementers with a shared concern for the lack of attention to the expanding HIV epidemic among MSM globally, the MSMGF is governed today by a 20-person steering committee composed of experts from 17 different countries: Australia, Cameroon, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Romania, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, the UK, the US, and Zimbabwe.
After reading their policy brief which included comments from various key persons worldwide including a Jamaican representative I was left almost dumbfounded. The comments particularly that got me were as follows:
“If a general population had 10%, 25% or 32% infection rates it would be considered a crisis situation. Yet in the Caribbean programming for MSM is all talk and fragmented, resource-starved action. …Indigenous organizations struggle financially even though that is where the technical expertise is housed.”
Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, Jamaica
This is exactly the reasons why I have been so critical particularly of private Jamaican NGOs chief among them is Jamaica AIDS Support for Life that reaches the MSM community in light of the recent Homeless MSM housing project’s ever changing pending closure and the ugly politics surrounding this, service delivery and the overall on again off again convenient interventions over the years in the MSM community.
If it is all talk and fragmented resources then what has the organization been doing all these years? All talk may be the answer then by virtue of the quote above.
Why for example was the GLABCOM program (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community activity under the aegis of JASL’s Targeted Intervention Department) was allowed to be ended with no proper action or directives from the Board of Governors, the long running programming activity is being kicked started by the T.I with younger folks who were not properly prepped with the mandate of the activity and thrown in at the deep end. As a former member of the Steering Committee itself I was asked by some of the prospective members to explain what it is about which I found myself sitting in an hour long exchange giving background information, I wish the new members well however knowing the drama that that can also bring.
The housing project that went up was killed before it even got off the ground with the Former Executive Director becoming the sacrificial lamb. I still believe it could have been tweaked and effectively micro managed to achieve meaningful results. The closing date for the house it self has become a moving target and probably deliberately so, I feel it is probably in a bid to silence the uproar it has caused in the sections of the community, continued coverage of this debacle on Gay Jamaica Watch and by extension GLBTQ Jamaica’s coverage of the issues and bringing them to light as the blogging activity was snidely described in a recent LGBT consultative process by the Chairman of the organization’s board as someone sitting in their bedroom somewhere writing something. So clearly the blogs are being read but comments by bloggers have been discounted by the powers that be, a most powerful indication yet of the snobbery, contempt and disregard that obtains in the old systems of advocacy as operated by a few friends. These are Noticeable problems that abound in governance and the national political systems.
As for the struggling financially comment some of the biggest questions asked by many including persons in the national programs and persons associated with donors is where is the accountability on funds dispersed before and were previous funding properly spent?
Strikingly the named organization a pinned to the Co-chair’s name is the umbrella organization covering civil groups catering to HIV work so is it that the CVC also failed to adequately monitor, coordinate and or supervise the activities of theses Non governmental organizations carrying on HIV/AIDS work all these years and are they playing catch up now with the recent set of workshops and seminars in a supposed bid to tap into the community’s issues and to impress international representatives as the race is on to tap into the funding that are to become available through a major funder. Where were previous consultative processes to discuss and solve issues affecting ordinary LGBT people?
The above quoted member was once an Executive Director for a short time of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life so one could interpret his quote as including himself in the mix. The uncooperative nature of the JASL with the national program is not lost to many that are in key places of funding, programming and interventions but as Jamaicans would say a bere mix up and politics mi luv. So even if a new organization wants to commence and grow your hear the names of the old guard keep coming up from proposal readers despite the bad taste in the mouths of many donors who still do business with the entity as the impression given is they the old NGO have been there so long.
Organizations & Interventions on paper
Recommendations in the policy guide that have been heard before:
peer and outreach education,
free distribution of condoms and lubricants,
use of targeted media,
sexually transmitted infections (STI) screening and treatment, and
voluntary HIV testing.
Programming should ensure that HIV service providers have the necessary knowledge, tools and training to provide services to MSM, including the transfer of specialized clinical skills and anti-homophobia training. Furthermore, these must be made available and accessible to MSM in all areas, including urban, peri-urban and rural.
The MSMGF has also identified five key strategic areas where attention is needed in order to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV among MSM, namely:
Increased investments in programs for MSM•
Expanded coverage of quality HIV-related services for MSM•
Increased knowledge and research on MSM and HIV •
Decreased stigma, discrimination, and violence against MSM•
Strengthened international, regional, sub-regional, and • national networks of MSM
The above recommendations and areas of recognition though poignant they have been said before so the comment about all talk may apply here. The amount of Peer educators that have been trained in Jamaica if properly placed and utilized could have yielded better results I feel and yet we end up with a 30% infection HIV rates in the MSM community, instructive isn’t it? We have workshop after workshop, seminar after seminar and the spirit and ideas die the moment the discourse are ended or adjourned and all these notes and data are generated and stored in printed materials in the form of reports, minutes and rapporteur notes sits in a filing cabinet somewhere to be used when? One is not sure. I guess to prove to funders that some things have been done on paper in the form of reports etc. are enough to sway funders without on the ground evidence.
The Place (Priorities for Local AIDS Control Efforts) initiatives for example that was rolled out to the MSM grouping 2007 in the form of a study by the National program through the Ministry of Health met a minor roadblock as played out by some key members in the MSM intervention grouping as the tussle between the groups reared its ugly head again where some complain that the National program only seeks to gain statistics and there are no sustained long term interventions in the MSM groups as they (the NGOs) want more support to do so on their own. While those sentiments may be valid how long is it going to take before the get over that and MSMs still are getting infected and suffering. So much for scattered or fragmented resource starved action. It however helped to produce the statistics indicating the jump in infection rates in the MSM grouping to 30% in 2007. The slide show of that study as reproduced by yours truly in available on Gay Jamaica Watch’s Blog under the studies tag.
Accusations of lack of confidentiality by several former service users have also bedeviled the organization for years even till today, why there wasn’t any suggestion to strengthen internal systems of the NGOs involved and adequate capacity building?
Why wasn’t there any recommendation for allowing the inception, development and assistance to new NGOs in the mix who may have new ideas that are implementable?
It is always the same voices speaking on behalf of the community all these years and yet nothing changes it seems to get worse over time, when are new voices especially persons who are new to the halls of policy or proposal development get a chance to speak about the real issues and not reported scenarios from persons who are so called experts, bureaucrats and are not fully experienced on the ground? Such is the landscape with the dangerous perception that those who are in power are not particularly interested in accommodating any thing that looks threatening to the status quo.
Many questions with no sure answers, rife speculation in the community, persons who have solutions but who are afraid to act or speak out (cowards) we can’t operate like this and be effective on the ground folks.
All talk indeed.
Peace and tolerance