AIDS22 in Montréal will be GFAN’s fifth international AIDS conference, and we took the occasion to reflect back.
GFAN was born out of the realization by a small group of advocates, Global Fund Board members and members of the Global Fund Secretariat that advocacy around the Replenishments by civil society should not be done through ad hoc structures rebuilt at each cycle. This realization took place after the Global Fund had just gone through its third replenishment in 2010, in the context of a struggle for control and purpose at the Secretariat and a significant funding gap between what was identified as needed and what donors had pledged. So in 2011, during a Partnership Forum CSO meeting, the first drafts of what was to become GFAN the following year were drawn. It was GFAN envisioned as a network open to all who cared about a fully funded and effective Global Fund. It was a platform to provide a space for long term coordination and facilitate institutional memory by civil society advocates in-between each replenishment campaign. It eventually grew beyond these initial goals.
GFAN brought together advocates from the Global North, with the most direct levers of action onto donor countries, and advocates from the Global South, who saw first-hand the impact of the Global Fund’s investments. GFAN was envisioned as a platform for exchange and joint strategizing, and in over 10 years it has grown into a unique and successful civil society advocacy network, one that remains focused on the Global Fund envision its role as part of a larger coalition of advocates worldwide for fully funded and effective efforts against the HIV, tuberculosis & malaria epidemics and for the attainment of health, human rights and sustainable development.
GFAN success is built on two pillars. On the one hand, familiarity with and expertise on Global Fund policies and processes, born out of years of constant contact, involvement and observation. On the other hand, an independence from the Global Fund Secretariat that allows for criticism and debate. The tension between these two pillars has not always been easy to navigate for the GFAN secretariat, but is also what gives it a unique vantage point and perspective to share with network members.
To strengthen the north-south and inter-regional collaboration between GFAN advocates, two regional sister organizations were launched – GFAN Africa and GFAN Asia-Pacific. Both developed a voice and expertise separate from the GFAN Secretariat, and play a crucial role in creating a space for region-specific advocacy and strengthen advocacy around domestic resource mobilization, on which expectations have grown significantly after the 5th and 6th Replenishments.
One of GFAN’s singular contribution to the global advocacy effort around the successive replenishment was the establishment of the GFAN Speakers Bureau; built out of the success of the “Here I Am Campaign” and its ambassadors. A central challenge of advocates from marginalized and vulnerable communities is that they rarely get access to decision-making spaces. GFAN works with carefully selected advocates, who have seen first-hand the impact of the Global Fund in their lives or that of their family or broader community.. These advocates are given both a platform, training and on-going mentoring to support them to tell their stories and deliver them wherever decision-makers are, from the halls of parliaments to the UN General Assembly.
GFAN’s mission has evolved with time to include activities relevant to the cause but not directly connected to the Global Fund replenishment. For example in 2017 we supported civil society and communities to effectively engage ahead of the TB High Level Meeting, and since 2020 around CS engagement in ACT-A. Part of our role has always been to ensure that network members and health advocates have access to the resources they need to engage around emerging issues – Financial Tax, Beyond ODA, Digital Health and Transition.
Unsurprisingly, the past two years have presented their fair share of challenges for the GFAN secretariat and the network as a whole. Ten years in, despite our well established platforms, our channels to engage our members and supporting them in their advocacy, like many others we suddenly had to learn a lot from scratch. It has challenged our assumptions about how we work and how we can be impactful as a secretariat as a network.
We had to learn to create virtual spaces that bring people together, without the chance to solidify relationships face-to-face. Advocacy from a desk at home, home-schooling kids or caring for our family and neighbors, advocating for better COVID approaches locally and globally, was not easy in 2020 and did not get much easier in 2021. Looking ahead, managing to be heard and make a difference despite the distance and the uncertainty is going to be even more crucial. In 2022 world leaders will decide, through the size of their contributions to the Global Fund, whether they are ready to stand by their word and get us back on track to 2030 and meet the global Sustainable Development Goals.
10 years on, regrettably, our message and our fight has hardly changed. Much has happened, lives have been saved, drugs have come to market and dropped in price. We see the possibility of finally ending the epidemics of AIDS, TB and malaria. In part, it is thanks to new tools like the first ever malaria vaccine or promising AIDS and TB vaccine candidates in trials or the pipeline. It’s also in part thanks to improvement in existing technology, like rapid diagnostics and shorter TB drug courses, but perhaps most of all thanks to the centering of health policy, with the pandemic bringing the Ministries of Health at the very center of power making structures in a way they have never been before. And yet it might all slip from our grasp. It will be blamed on the pandemic, and it has thrown us back. But the truth is that it has been political decisions after political decisions to not fully meet the needs, to not fully fund the responses to HIV, TB or malaria and now COVID. But it is not too late to reverse the trend. This is why, as GFAN marks its 10th anniversary and as we look to the 7th Replenishment, we have returned to our core message and our core purpose to fully fund the Global Fund, to get back on track to end the epidemics.