Somaliland HIV/AIDS Working Group Takes Action on World AIDS Day

  • Elizabeth Lewis

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

There is much being done to commemorate the day around the world. The UN is running the hands up for #HIVprevention campaign, New York City unveiled its AIDS memorial, Apple “turned (red)”, and there is much talk about the HIV vaccination trial underway in South Africa, the country with the largest HIV/AIDS burden in the world with 7 million living with the disease and 1,000 new infections daily.  I’m sure you’ll see lots of red ribbons, there will be speeches. You can follow along on Twitter using any of these (and many other) hashtags: #WorldAIDSDay and #WAD2016. A lot of the discussion today will focus on Africa, and rightly so; about 66 percent of new infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa.  However, the story we want to tell you today is one that likely won’t get much international media coverage, but it’s one worth telling.  Let’s start at the beginning.

In late 2011 and with funding from USAID, IRI began working with the Somaliland House of Representatives to establish multi-partisan issue-based caucuses in an effort to support the Parliament to engage in policy debate and generate legislation on issues of importance to citizens.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Somaliland, it’s a self-declared independent, but not internationally recognized territory in north western Somalia. Compared to its neighbors, it’s one of the most stable parts of the Horn of Africa.  One of the caucuses established by Somaliland MPs with IRI support was the Health Caucus. In the two years that followed, IRI supported Health Caucus members to travel to each of the six regions of Somaliland to meet with ordinary citizens and civil society to identify priorities and needs for the parliament to address and to review and debate pending legislation. 

By 2013, caucus members were ready to draft their own legislation to address pressing needs, and in August the Prevention of HIV/AIDS Act Working Group was formed.  This working group was one of six joint civil society/parliamentary working groups established with IRI-support, with the mandate to draft legislation in coordination with civil society organizations working in the issue area of focus. As of the close of the IRI program in Somaliland in September 2014 (IRI has since returned to Somaliland to support upcoming electoral processes), the working group held a total of 19 meetings to research and draft HIV/AIDS prevention legislation. 

Over two years, the HIV/AIDS working group continues to meet independent of IRI support, and has held well over 40 meetings to work on HIV/AIDS prevention legislation.  Earlier today, their draft legislation was submitted to the Somaliland parliament to commemorate World AIDS Day.  The working group will continue to work in coordination with the Social Affairs Committee of the Somaliland House of Representatives to see this legislation be reviewed and debated in parliament, and eventually passed into law.

Earlier this morning, I was sharing emails with my colleagues here at IRI who worked on our program with the Somaliland parliament after we received word from the working group that they succeeded in introducing the bill today on World AIDS Day.  Not only were we excited for their success after many years of work, but it’s a reminder that IRI programs have impacts beyond the lives of our programs, sometimes years. We are looking forward to seeing how the working group continues to engage on this legislation and this critical issue well into the future.

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