Onto the African Map: Youth Key Populations and HIV at the ­ICASA 2017 Pre-Conference

Adilet Alimkulov, Head of Advocacy & Partnership Department at Kyrgyz INDIGO, discusses implementation of comprehensive HIV & STI programs with gay & other MSM using MSMIT

Earlier this December, key population activists, providers, funders, researchers and policy experts from around the world gathered in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire to raise​ ​awareness​ ​and​ ​deepen​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​HIV​ ​infection​ ​vulnerabilities of​ ​young key populations (YKPs) in Africa at ICASA 2017. The pre-conference, hosted by AMSHeR, included panel presentations and open discussions. These offered ​critical​ ​assessments of​ ​challenges to inclusion of ​YKPs​ ​in​ ​HIV​ ​prevention​ ​programs as well as best practices providing health services for YKPs in contexts that struggle with criminalizing ​laws​ and discriminating policies as well as stigma.

Commissioner Soyata Maiga, Chair of the African Commission on Hyman and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), set tone for the pre-conference, discussing inequities faced by key populations and need for resources to address challenges faced by YKP.

A key guiding principle of the pre-conference was that young people have the fundamental right to meaningfully participate in decision-making processes when it comes to programs or policies that affect their lives and should, therefore, should participate in all stages of decision-making, including: during development, implementation and evaluation.

Several themes arose over the course of the conference including: a commitment to solidarity among key populations that celebrate each other’s successes and sharing lessons learned rather than competing for limited resources; the importance of understanding and addressing YKP needs within broader social and political contexts that undermine their health (e.g., through stigmatization, marginalization, and criminalization); and the goal of strengthening health and community systems at local levels in addition to calling for greater regional investments; and commitment to YKPs participation at all levels of programming, research and policy development implementation and dissemination.

Refreshingly, the conference also began a discourse regarding the inherent barrier that is created in public health when key populations become pathologized as diseases or problems that must be fixed. The recommended antidote was for an acknowledgement and integration of the reality of sexual pleasure and the beauty in diversity of sexuality and gender. Hopefully, these themes will find their way into comprehensive sex education.

“The YKP Pre-Conference was especially timely given that our organization has been increasingly attentive to concerns facing young MSM.” said Jeffrey Walimbwa, Program Manager at ISHTAR in Nairobi.