October 2020, Vienna – October 28th marked the first meeting of a UNODC-founded initiative seeking to unite civil society organisations (CSOs) working on HIV and related issues among people in prison from around the globe. The core aim of the initiative is to nurture a mutually supportive network of CSOs responding to the diverse health needs of prison communities at regional and local levels. CSOs play a crucial role in helping to deliver the shared goal of improving access to comprehensive HIV services behind bars, mitigating incidences of discrimination against people in and released from prison and people living with HIV, and ultimately, ending AIDS by 2030.
The meeting provided an opportunity for representatives from 26 organisations to introduce their work, the most pressing contemporary issues faced by their community, their biggest achievements and what they hope to achieve through these collaborative efforts. The broad scope of projects carried out by these CSOs presents a powerful reflection of just how vital and far-reaching the collective work of community-based organisations can be. From the acquisition of land in Zambia to provide half-way housing for newly pardoned prisoners to increasing the provision of post-exposure prophylaxis in South Africa, the breadth of the work presented was truly astonishing.
The meeting helped to identify common issues faced by almost all CSOs involved including a lack of access to people in prison, a concurrent lack of data, the continued stigma attached to formerly incarcerated people and political apathy towards policy change. Through creating a platform for the exchange of ideas, data and best practices, the parties involved anticipate benefitting mutually to overcome these challenges.
The inception of the informal UNODC - CSO network heralds an important step towards coordinating the efforts of CSOs from around the world, pool experience and conclusively deliver our shared vision of leaving no one behind in the HIV response.