During this year’s International AIDS Conference in Vienna, RESULTS UK, in partnership with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS, organised a round table discussion with Parliamentarians and NGOs from around the world to discuss how to maximise and leverage the powerful role that Parliamentarians play across the world in the fight against HIV/AIDS and TB.
The meeting was organised with two objectives. Firstly, to provide civil society groups with advice on how to support MPs in their country to establish interest groups on global health issues (such as the All-Party Parliamentary Groups, or APPGs, that we have here in the UK) and secondly to provide an opportunity for parliamentarians from different countries to learn from each other and build linkages between their respective interest groups.
The meeting drew on experiences from RESULTS UK and Canada who have both helped MPs to establish interest groups on TB following parliamentary delegations to high TB burden countries.
With David Cairns, MP for Inverclyde in the UK chairing the meeting, there were also parliamentarians from South Africa, Uganda, Namibia and India in attendance, all sharing information on how parliamentarians currently engage in health issues.
What became quite noticeable was how different countries vary in the nature of their interest groups. While in the UK, APPGs are informal cross-party interest groups that have no official status within Parliament, other countries – particularly those with a high burden on HIV and TB – have more formal standing committees on HIV and TB which scrutinise government and undertake detailed examination of policies and activity.
In South Africa, the parliamentarian Hendrietta Bogapane-Zulu (Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s working group on HIV/AIDS), commented how committees were often determined by political space and priorities of the moment, HIV/AIDS being a key example of this. As such a new style of committee is being launched in South Africa in September which will move away from the voluntary model, to an official interest group that will be broad and inclusive of issues surrounding HIV. This will also include integration of tuberculosis within the National AIDS council. This new style of committee will not only involve cross-party parliamentarians but also a strong monitoring role with powers to hold the government accountable to any commitments made at any level on HIV/TB issues.
In the Ugandan context the discussions highlighted the need for parliamentarians to be engaged and educated even at the grass roots level so as to be better informed advocates for health issues within parliament. Each example highlighted the importance of finding a MP champion to help sustain advocacy momentum and the scope that civil society has in being able to educate and inform about HIV/AIDS and TB, to better address these issues within government national plans and legislature.
This was clearly illustrated by the Aeras TB Vaccine Foundation, a non-profit research organisation working to develop a TB vaccine. By working closely with civil society groups, Aeras has been able to engage with various parliamentarians through groups such as the APPG on Global Tuberculosis. An achievement of this interaction between foundation, civil society and MP champions led to the British government announcing in March earlier this year a financial commitment to TB vaccine research.
The morning of interesting discussions covering a breadth of civil society and countries was brought to a close by an agreement on taking a joint action amongst the international parliamentarians. With only 5 years remaining till the deadline of the MDGs, now is a critical time for global leaders to make a firm and true commitment to health. This includes ensuring the Global Fund has a successful replenishment to continue its work on tackling HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.