The Lao civil society sector has been strengthening its engagement with the country coordinating mechanism. A Forum of Civil Society Organizations, Key Affected Populations, and People Living with the Diseases was initiated in early 2015 under the leadership of Dr Soulany Chansy, who is from the Lao Red Cross and is vice-chair of the CCM. The CCM secretariat provided support.
The leaders of the CSO-KAP-PLWD Forum are hopeful that this will make a difference in enhancing the voice of the key affected populations and communities affected by HIV, TB, and malaria, so that their priorities will be heard in current and future dialogues with different stakeholders to inform national programs and strategies.
The Forum will consolidate the engagement of CSOs and will be a platform for wider participation of KAPs and PLWDs.
In the context of civil society in Laos, the establishment and the strengthening of the Forum is a strategic move and an exciting development to observe. As expressed by a key leader of the Forum:
“There is a need for a genuine cooperation and partnership among CSOs, KAPs and PLWIDs Effective coordination of these key players will help ensure that the needs and priorities of local communities, PLWDs and KAPs are appropriately addressed in the national strategies and programs. Their capacity building for dialogues will also improve the participation and aid effectiveness of investments to the high risk groups. In addition, coordination of representation of CSOs, KAPs and PLWDs will bring about more balanced membership and representation in the CCM.”
Representatives of the CSOs, KAPS and PLWDs have met several times to iron out the terms of reference of the Forum and to ensure that it is structured in a way that will enable it to function well. This process was facilitated by the French Red Cross through a project funded by the French 5% initiative.
There is optimism about the future impact of the Forum. The members of the Forum envision CSOs, KAPs, and people living with HIV, TB, and malaria having access to high quality treatment, health products, services, and information. CSO members view the Forum as a means to provide a space for open discussion of common issues, free expression of opinions, sharing of information and collaboration among members. The role of the Forum in monitoring grant implementation – which it is hoped will lead to increased transparency in reporting – is expected to contribute to increased learning, accountability, and program effectiveness.
Currently, nine of the 24 seats on the CCM are allocated to CSOs: local non-profit associations (3), PLWDs (3), peer educator for KAPs (1), and international NGOs (2). However, through the Forum, the representation of KAPs will be broadened to include key populations that are not officially recognized in Lao PDR. These include sex workers groups, transgender groups and people who use or inject drugs.
The key objectives of the Forum for this coming two years are:
- to improve the representation, communication, coordination and reporting of CSOs, KAPs and PLWDs to the CCM; and
- to strengthen the engagement of CSOs, KAPs and PLWDs by building their capacity for meaningful dialogue at all levels (national, provincial, and community).
A technical assistance group, made up of international NGO representatives will provide support to the Forum. There will be four task groups, covering HIV, TB, malaria, and health systems strengthening. Each task group will include at least one Forum member or coordination committee member. (See the Figure.)
Figure: How the CSO-KAP-PLWD Forum will be structured
The CSO-KAP-PLWD Forum will be coordinated by a coordination committee comprised of nine elected members and nine elected alternates. The committee will aim for gender and constituency-balanced representation, following an inclusive and transparent process of election.
The coordination committee, which will have a seat on the CCM, will represent the interest of the Forum with respect to both the CCM and other Global Fund–related processes in Lao PDR.
In order to be effective, Forum members will have to overcome challenges, such as: a limited availability of resources at all levels; limited organizational capacity of the community-based organizations and networks of key affected populations (including limited institutional, fundraising and operating capacities, especially among groups that are not beneficiaries of Global Fund-funded programs); and a limited understanding of the importance of the role of KAPS and PLWDs in helping to improve the effectiveness and impact of the national program.
Laos’ unique landscape and ethnic diversity also pose challenges with respect to accessing information and to communications between the affected communities and the Forum.
The Forum is supported by the CCM’s budget and co-funded by the French 5% Initiative.