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For years, diverse civil society organizations have worked side by side with the federal government of Mexico in order to carry out HIV prevention and testing activities. That work is now under threat due to President Lopez Obrador’s order to stop the flow of public funds to all NGOs in the country.
Civil society organizations are a vital component in the Mexican response to the epidemic, particularly with key populations severely affected by HIV. Even though these groups have a significantly higher risk, gay men and other men who have sex with men, trans women and sex workers are often left out of government’s actions due to the difficulty in reaching them, the lack of skilled and culturally competent health care providers, homophobia and transphobia..
Many organizations providing services for key populations could disappear or experience serious financial difficulties as the order given by the president Lopez Obrador is implemented. He said recently, during a press conference, that given that some Civil Society Organizations have been part of corruption activities, that public funding would stop to all civil society, regardless of the type of work they do.
The Mexican government has played very well its role in the governance of the health system and also with providing free treatment to all people who need HIV medications. Nevertheless, for testing and prevention activities, the State cannot do it by itself. Since 2006, the National AIDS Program of the Ministry of Health (CENSIDA) started supporting financially these organizations as long as they were registered, paid taxes and had good accountability systems. For more than a decade, publicly funded programs have seen good results and there has not been any evidence of corruption.
During the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam last year, UNAIDS recognized as an international good practice the work that CENSIDA and Mexican NGOs do as a successful “social contracting” practice which is promoted internationally by the United Nations in order to improve the global response to HIV. Social contracting means that governments provide funding to civil society organizations to carry out activities that would be difficult or expensive from the official point of view. Having CSOs providing services to key populations is also important because most of them are created by the communities themselves who have the chance to work closer to the most affected groups with less resources and a stronger impact.
The president’s decision to stop funding CSOs also affects organizations working in other fields, including human rights, environmental issues, political participation and women’s empowerment, among others. Controversy was also sparked over the decision to stop funding shelters for victims of gender-based violence and their families, particularly because no plan was put in place to address the needs of women who suffer from violence. Most of the shelters will have to close down altogether without public funding.
Because Mexico is considered as a middle-high-income country, there is very little international funding, and external donors are becoming more and more scarce. On the other hand, a culture for individual donors to support civil society organizations like in the United States doesn’t really exist in Mexico, though there are a few exceptions. Big companies and the private sector in general only support welfare organizations because their main objective is to deduct taxes.
Civil society has played a very important role in the democratization of the country. Many high officials of the current government have collaborated with NGOs in the past, and and they are concerned that nobody from within the government is challenging the president’s dangerous decision. It is crucial that the resources are distributed because they were already approved by Congress last year and they are ready to be disbursed.
Inspira Cambio is an organization that provides HIV and STI testing and prevention services for young gay and bisexual men. Inspira has a strong volunteer base that implements testing and distributes condoms in risky areas because that is where key populations are found. So, despite the fact that a large part of the work is done by volunteers, Inspira needs funding for administration, rent and support for the crucial efforts of their volunteers.
One of the most affected groups by the HIV and Hepatitis C epidemics in Mexico are injection drug users. Many of them are migrants deported from the United States or people who were never able to cross the border from Mexico and stayed in cities like Tijuana, Juarez, Nogales or Mexicali. In Mexicali, the organization Verter implements harm reduction activities for people who inject heroin and other drugs in order to decrease the possibility of HIV and Hep C transmission. They distribute syringes and a substance to prevent overdose, as well as first aid services for people who have health problems as a result of their drug use.
Hundreds of organizations across the country need public funding, and their impactful work needs to be recognized by President Lopez Obrador. He and his administration need to fully invest in the lives of vulnerable populations.
What are your thoughts on President Lopez Obrador and his order to stop funding of NGOs?
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