Rapid Response Fund aims to maintain HIV service access for sexual minorities

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Organizations in 29 countries are eligible for emergency funds, support for longer term measures to counter treatment barriers

In the weeks after Nigeria passed its 2014 law banning gay people from gathering, and criminalizing organizations that supported them, programs providing HIV services for men who have sex with men and other sexual minorities in that country saw their numbers of new clients drop by half and then dwindle to none. Less than two months after the signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law in 2014, police in that nation’s capital city forced the closing of a U.S.-funded project that stemmed from one of the first programs to bring antiretroviral treatment to Uganda through the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. In both cases, local nonprofit organizations that had struggled to reach some of the most affected and least served populations in two of the countries with some of the highest rates of HIV in the world watched gains they had made dissolve before them.

Now a Rapid Response Fund will provide emergency grants as well as funding for longer term projects to support action countering barriers to health and health access faced by sexual minorities in 29 countries, where laws and practices threaten their safety. The countries include Uganda, where a high court overturned the most recent and restrictive law, but where legislators have vowed to try again, Nigeria where the “Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Law” led to rampant violence against gay citizens, and citizens suspected of being gay, Cameroon, where a HIV treatment and human rights activist Eric O. Lembembe was beaten to death after documenting barriers to health services faced by gay people in that country, and Zambia, where HIV treatment activist Paul Kasonkomona was jailed after suggesting the government examine obstacles to HIV testing and treatment faced by gay people there. In addition to 19 countries in Africa, the list of eligible countries also include six in the Caribbean, with laws, policies and practices discriminating against their gay citizens, and with some of the highest HIV rates in their hemisphere. Emergency grants will be available for activities that include relocation of services, safety measures, legal support and medical supplies. Challenge Response grants will supply funds for activities that can include education of law enforcement and health care workers as well as community and faith-based leaders, and mapping facilities providing services for sexual minorities.

The fund from which the emergency and long-term grants, for amounts up to $20,000 will come is managed by International HIV/AIDS Alliance, one of the first two recipients of grants from a $10 million fund launched by the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to open and ensure access to HIV services for men who have sex with men and other sexual minorities in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. The organization aims to process emergency applications for grants within two working days, and will assess applications for longer term Challenge Response grants every two weeks.

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