Six tips for officials on working with civil society

group of people having a meeting

This is a stock photo of people having a meeting. Photo by on

I recently met a young human rights lawyer who is starting a government job, and who asked for advice on working with civil society. Her question made me realize that while there are many tools for capacity-building for activists on how to advocate with officials, I’ve never run across a capacity-building program for officials on how to work with civil society.

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Health, rights and drugs


Première Ligne, Geneva’s government-funded safe injection site

Ninety-nine percent of people who inject drugs live in countries that lack adequate harm reduction services, including the three countries with the largest populations of people who inject drugs: China, Russia, and the United States. That is one of the key findings of a new UNAIDS report to which I contributed, Health, rights and drugs: Harm reduction, decriminalization and zero discrimination for people who use drugsThe report also shows that rates of HIV infection are not declining among people who use drugs, and may be on the rise. It calls for urgent action. Continue reading

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Funding community-led HIV responses: we’re not there yet

who_eb124_090119In 2016, UN member states committed to two goals as part of the big global push to end AIDS: Ensure that 30% of all HIV service delivery is community-led, and ensure that 6% of HIV resources are allocated to advocacy, community mobilization, and other “social enablers”. But a recent UNAIDS report to which I contributed found that instead, global investment in these two commitments has declined. Continue reading

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Event: Human rights transformations

HR Transformation Feb 15 2019Human rights are described as being in crisis, but the ideals thrive in many places, even where they’re under attack. Join us for this upcoming event to launch a volume, Human Rights Transformation in Practice, edited by Sally Engle Merry and Tine Destrooper. The book draws on diverse ethnographic research to explore how human rights are put into practice by activists and institutions around the world.

I co-wrote a chapter with Charmain Mohamed on Asia Catalyst‘s work with Chinese activists advocating on HIV and human rights. (I founded Asia Catalyst, and Charmain was executive director for a time; Karyn Kaplan is the ED today.) My fellow panelists at this event, Johannes Waldmuller and Tine Destrooper, write about environmental activism in Ecuador, and UNICEF’s work in DRC, respectively. Grégoire Mallard will chair the session, with Mark Goodale sharing insights as discussant.

Date: Friday, 15 February from 18:00 to 20:00

Place: Graduate Institute (IHEID), room S5, petale 1, Geneva, Switzerland

Sponsors: Anthropology and Sociology Department, Global Health Centre


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Register: Short courses on sexual violence in conflicts & emergencies

Entebbe firewood

Copyright Sara Davis

March 18 – 22, 2019, GENEVA

September 9 -13. 2019, GENEVA

November 25- 29, 2019, ENTEBBE, UGANDA

We are pleased to announce the 2019 dates for the CERAH (Geneva Center for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action) much-in-demand one-week short course on sexual violence in conflicts and emergencies. Combining cutting-edge research and practical experience from experts in the field, the course is tailored to emergency program managers, and one of the few courses to address male and female survivors of sexual violence. Participants in the Uganda session meet with activists from the Refugee Law Project to hear about their experiences first-hand. Continue reading

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Data, priorities and global health


I spent part of January working on my book manuscript, The Uncounted: Politics of Data in Global Health. When I began writing this in 2017, I was just interested in the data paradox: in which criminalized, stigmatized key populations, who lack data to prove they exist, get no funding for programs that save their lives, reinforcing the lack of data. But as I get deeper into the work, I’m noticing the growing dominance of cost-effectiveness language and tools, and how economic values are shaping how we think about priorities in global health finance.

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Sexual violence against migrants

Conflicts around the world are fueling sexual violence against men, women and children. It was an honor to moderate this roundtable at ICRC’s Humanitarium in Geneva on September 10th, with a group of experts who are working in these crises to advocate for, and support the rights of migrants and refugees who experience sexual violence.

Peter Maurer, president of ICRC, gave opening remarks. The panelists included Hillary Margolis (Human Rights Watch), Fouzia Bara (Médécins Sans Frontières), Alexandra MacDowall (UNHCR), and Sophie Sutrich (ICRC). The conversation was enriched by interventions from Karla Avelar and Chris Dolan in the audience, speaking to the challenges faced by male survivors and LGBT survivors in accessing services. Doris Schopper (CERAH) wrapped up the discussion.

A full video of the discussion is online here:

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AIDS 2018: Debates over best use of global funds


(L-R) Chris Beyrer, Michel Kazatchkine, Anka Van Damm at EECA Roundtable. ©Sara L.M. Davis
The last in a series of four articles on AIDS 2018 for Health and Human Rights.


July 26, 2018

Steadily growing rates of HIV infection in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) are at the heart of a debate roiling health aid at AIDS 2018. While US funding for the global HIV response increased in 2017, that trend is unlikely to continue and most other donors cut back, according to a new report from Kaiser Family Foundation and UNAIDS.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and PEPFAR argue that given the limited global funding for HIV, they should prioritize investing in Sub-Saharan African countries to reach the largest number of people living with HIV. Middle-income countries are increasingly left to “transition” out of aid and foot their own bill. But critics say EECA governments do not fund services for criminalized populations such as people who use drugs. As a result, 39% of new HIV infections are now occurring amongst people who use drugs in the EECA region, says UNAIDS.

“International aid, and the Global Fund in particular, should not behave like development banks. We should fight AIDS wherever it is, and fund what governments are not willing to fund at the time,” said former Global Fund executive director Michel Kazatchkine. While he congratulated a Russian health official sitting beside him at a roundtable, who asserted that Russia had increased its funding for HIV, Kazatchkine countered, “Funding for prevention in Russia is far from where it should be, and still not at scale.”

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AIDS 2018: New technologies, new data, new risks


Sex workers protest to demand their rights at AIDS 2018

The third in a series of four articles on AIDS 2018 for the Health and Human Rights journal. 


July 24, 2018

Data has been a hot topic throughout the first two days of AIDS 2018—who has it, how to get it, and what kinds of data can speed progress to the end of AIDS. But while new technologies are generating real excitement among donors and researchers, human rights activists are rarely in these discussions, leaving questions of risk and ethics largely in the shadows.

Some new methods that are rapidly on the rise include:

  • Geospatial mapping, which uses individual data to map key population hotspots and patterns of migration
  • Biometrics, the collection of physical markers such as iris scans, fingerprints, or facial scans that can identify individuals, and
  • Phylogenetics, the use of molecular sequencing data, such as DNA, to trace historical relationships among people and chart the transmission of viruses.

These are some examples of data use presented in the first two days: we have heard about the use of biometrics to track sex workers and long distance truckers in African transportation corridors; a Mumbai project that mapped sites around the city of men who have sex with men using Grindr, a gay dating app; use of HIV genotyping and phylogenetics to assess transmission of resistance.

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AIDS 2018: Award to Allan Maleche, a “tireless crusader”


Standing ovation for Allan Maleche, winner of the Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award.

The second of a series of four articles for Health and Human Rights on the 2018 International AIDS Conference


July 23, 2018

AIDS 2018 is honoring human rights advocates and acknowledging their work is becoming ever more challenging in many countries. At the opening ceremony, the Elizabeth Taylor award went to Kenyan rights advocate Allan Maleche, executive director of KELIN. He won the award for KELIN’s successful litigation for the rights of people living with HIV and TB in Kenya.

In accepting the award, Maleche said, “There are many days when the challenges we face in Kenya and globally can seem endless. Human rights are never really secure—they must be fought for every day. Even with the advancements in science in the HIV world, the stigma and human rights violations remain the same.”

He said the award would be a huge boost to his organization to continue their work serving affected communities in Kenya.

“The story of HIV is a story of social justice and human rights,” said Quinn Tivey, grandson of Dame Elizabeth Taylor who took up AIDS activism in the 1980s, founding organizations and foundations in outrage over the treatment of her friends and colleagues. International AIDS Society (IAS) president Linda-Gail Bekker called Maleche a “tireless crusader” for the rights of people living with HIV and affected by TB, noting that KELIN had “used the law as a powerful tool.”

Maleche affirmed the cause of 23 women who have written to UNAIDS about sexual harassment, saying, “I believe them and I stand in solidarity with them. We look to the UN to set the standard on human rights and gender equality. We are not there yet.” Maleche also leads the Developing Country NGO Delegation to the Global Fund Board.


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