DR Congo: Sex Worker-led Groups Make Major Step Towards Inclusion in Global Fund Country Coordination Team

Sex worker-led groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo say they have been side lined in key programs supported by the Global Fund in their country. They say sex workers and other Key Populations have barely been involved in their country’s Global Fund Country Coordination Mechanism (CCM).

Country Coordinating Mechanisms are national committees in each country that submit funding applications to the Global Fund on behalf of their country. Ideally, this includes representatives from government, the private sector, technical partners, civil society and communities living with HIV.

However, according Modeste Mambo, the Executive Director of HODSA, Men for Sexual Health and Rights, sex worker-led groups have not been adequately represented in the CCM.

“Rarely has our input been sought. We have been ignored and often used to rubber stamp decisions in meetings where we are invited to talk about STIs, HIV and Aids. In some instances, we have been given condoms to distribute without being asked about our members’ health requirements or challenges,” he says.

The exclusion, he says, is due to the fact that policy makers do not acknowledge the existence of sex workers and the need to include them in health programs.

“I was shocked to learn that the person said to represent sex workers in the CCM is a doctor allegedly working with our community,” he says.

Sex work is legal, but criminalised through provisions in the Penal Code that among others things prohibit buying of sex workers and running brothels.

This coupled with political and security challenges pose a great challenge in designing and implementing effective health programs especially for sex workers and other Key Populations.

In previous attempts to be included, Modeste says they have enlisted support from key allies such as the United Nations Populations Fund.

Noting the representation and knowledge gap about Global Fund and how it works in countries, the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) through the support of Global Network of Sex Work Projects(NSWP), is building the capacity of sex worker-led groups to engage in their countries’ CCMs.

In April this year, ASWA organised a capacity building workshop for sex worker-led groups in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Rwanda, DRC Congo and Senegal in Nairobi.

Following this workshop, HODSAS and UMANDE (a group for female and transgender sex workers) held a roundtable discussion in June with other key partners in HIV programming in their country.

Some of the leaders present during a roundtable meeting to discuss how sex worker-led groups can be included the DR Congo Global Fund team. 

During this workshop, representatives from the National Multi-sector AIDS Control Program, the Principal Recipient, CORDAID, the Provincial Coordinator for AIDS Control, PASCO (loosely translated as ‘Let’s talk AIDS to the community), a sub-recipient, and the Diocesan Office of Medical Works (BDOM) held discussions with 20 leaders of sex worker led groups, and the network of people living with HIV under the interventions and facilitation of the African expert at the Global Fund for Key Populations.  As a way forward, a work plan was established to strengthen collaboration in the next funding cycle in the country.

Leaders of sex worker-led organisations also agreed with the Principal Recipient and the Sub Recipients in the presence of the State authority to establish an integration plan into the Global Fund country process under the National Multi-Sectoral HIV Program.

They also agreed to strengthen collaboration between the sub recipient and sex worker-led organisations through results-based research.

The sex worker-led organisations also sent a recommendation to NSWP through the support of the Global Fund country expert to the United Nations Agencies to support implementation of these resolutions to the national level given the challenge the enormous size of DR Congo poses in terms of representation and program implementation.

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