Key Populations in the Middle East and North Africa Region

  • By: Sarah Jonassen Bittman and Manuel Couffignal
  • Published Date: April 2017
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With USAID support, from 2005 to 2015, a few key civil society organizations (CSOs) in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia implemented HIV prevention interventions reaching men who have sex with men (MSM). Over 10 years of implementation, the Responding to Key Populations in the MENA Region Program, led by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance under different USAID mechanisms, has supported these partners to strengthen their service delivery and organizational capacity and influence their environments to increase access to population-friendly services in locations that are hostile to key populations, and particularly MSM.

The MENA Program is a community-based outreach program for MSM and People Living with HIV (PLHIV). The only continuous MSM-focused service delivery program in the region, it was implemented in nine sites across Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia by six HIV-thematic organizations, one development organization, and one LGBT organization.

These partners are now among the few civil society organizations playing a key role in the HIV response in the region, working openly with MSM and hiring MSM staff and hosting and supporting PLHIV groups. Their efforts to promote self-esteem, reduce self-stigma, build solidarity among MSM communities, and increase access to services have played an undeniable role in enhancing the voices, advancing the rights, and improving the quality of life of MSM in the region. Additionally, the program has supported the Regional Arab Network against AIDS (RANAA) which, in 2013, started to strengthen the involvement, care, and support of PLHIV in the region.

The strategic objective of the MENA Program was to increase HIV and AIDS programming that meets the needs, primarily, of MSM and PLHIV in the region. The program was housed first under the AIDSTAR-Two Project and then transitioned to the Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project, which is led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), from 2013-2015.

This brief describes the program’s methods for strengthening the organizational capacity of civil society organizations and networks in the region and advocacy efforts to improve the enabling environment for MSM, PLHIV, and other key populations such as refugees and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.