amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Effecting Change: Service Organizations as Community Advocates

For the past five years, amfAR has been serving the HIV-related needs of gay men, other men who have sex with men (MSM), and transgender individuals (collectively referred to as “GMT”) throughout the developing world through its MSM Initiative, which was recently renamed The GMT Initiative.

With the change in name—meant to better reflect the diversity of those served by the program—came a strategic shift in focus toward advocacy as an essential means of effecting real and lasting progress.  “The change is about being more targeted in our grant-making to have a broader impact,” said Kent Klindera, director of the GMT Initiative.  

A project called Advocacy in Action, funded by the Levi Strauss Foundation, was a forerunner of this shift in focus.  Coordinated by both the GMT Initiative and earlier by TREAT Asia, it was designed to build the capacity of community-based organizations in Asia to advocate more effectively for improved access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services for GMT individuals.  The project takes a creative hands-on approach and combines on-site training and practical experience through tasking organizations with developing and implementing an advocacy project tailored to their needs and aspirations.

One of the first Advocacy in Action award recipients, Chengdu Love & Kindness Group, formed in May 2007 by HIV-positive MSM in Chengdu, China, is a service organization working to improve the well-being and quality of life of HIV-positive MSM.   “Service groups are the best advocates that a community has,” said Klindera.  “They know the needs of the people and the community better than anyone else.”

China Map

Chengdu Love & Kindness Group determined through qualitative research that the biggest issues facing people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in their community were the inconsistency in the costs associated with undergoing routine medical tests and the high overall costs of managing HIV-related illnesses.  The group’s advocacy project aimed to remedy these issues, and succeeded in generating important changes for their community.  PLWHA in Chengdu are no longer required to pay a “threshold fee for in-hospital treatment” and the costs of HIV-related tests are clearly itemized on posted lists, which help protect patients by ensuring that test fees remain constant between visits.

 “Through this project, I have a new understanding of advocacy,” said Liu Peng of Chengdu Love & Kindness Group.  “In the past I knew nothing about methods and strategy, but now I know how to identify key problems, use a variety of targeted advocacy strategies to address them, and achieve desirable outcomes.”