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Q&A: Why the Global HIV Response Must Emphasize Key Populations and Human Rights

July 30, 2018 | Brian Kanyemba | This post originally appeared on the GHFP-II blog

Brian Kanyemba recently completed a six-month internship with the USAID South Africa Health Office, which manages one of the largest President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programs in the world. A native Zimbabwean, Brian's passion for HIV prevention, education and advocacy began years ago as he witnessed firsthand the devastating effects HIV was having on his friends, family and community. He shared his lessons learned during his GHFP-II internship, proudest moments, and why a human rights approach to HIV is essential. Following his internship, Brian is completing his doctoral degree at the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Division of Social Sciences, University of Cape Town.

What made you want to work with USAID?

My lifetime heroes, Xulhaz Mannan and Simon Nkoli, both tireless champion of human rights, inspired me to improve access to HIV prevention, treatment and care, especially for people who face stigma, discrimination and criminalization. I've spent my career advocating on behalf of sex workers, LGBTI groups, particularly men who have sex with men, and young people. These groups are often referred to as "key populations."

My dream as a mid-career health professional has been to better understand the sources of funding and programs for key populations, and to work with developmental partners. I came to GHFP-II with years of experience in HIV programs. This internship was an opportunity to advance my professional development, and contribute my skills to USAID to ensure the HIV response addresses the health, social and human rights challenges key populations face.

Brian meets community health professionals who work to keep female sex workers safe and connect them with health services.

What skills did you gain through this internship? How do you think they will impact your next work experience?

Coming from academia and the nonprofit world, there were many things I had to “learn by doing.” For instance, while contributing to South Africa's PEPFAR Country Operational Plan (COP) 2018, I had to quickly master technical skills like program data analysis on a population level.

Interpersonal skills are just as important as the technical skills. When you’re working with different organizations and different personality types, flexibility and adaptability are a must, as are decision-making, problem solving and management skills. All of these skills will serve me well in my career, especially in the donor government environment.

What are some projects you’re especially proud of?

I am particularly proud of contributing to South Africa's COP. It's an annual plan that outlines how money will be allocated toward HIV/AIDS interventions, what types of HIV/AIDS interventions will be supported, and what goals the country program will work to achieve. It’s critical to design programs that reflect the real, lived experiences of the communities most affected by HIV/AIDS. That guides my work every day, and it was fulfilling to bring my perspective to the table as a member of the COP 2018 core team.

Contributing to the Equity Qualitative Assessment (EQA) was a similarly rewarding experience, which required different skill sets. The EQA’s purpose is to ensure PEPFAR-supported sites provide voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) services in accordance with national, World Health Organization and PEPFAR guidelines. We also provided recommendations to the Ministry of Health, implementing partners and site staff to improve the quality of VMMC services. VMMC has been found to be extremely effective in preventing new HIV infections. Improving the quality of services, while scaling up, can have a tremendous public health impact.

Additionally, as a Technical Advisor for HIV Biomedical Prevention, I assessed four PEPFAR-support sites and compiled a report consisting of chart reviews; observations of facilities, equipment and services (counselling, pre/post-operative care, surgeries); and areas for improvement, as identified by key personnel and clients.

How do you see this internship impacting your career? Was there anything you learned here that you wouldn’t be able to learn elsewhere?

At USAID, I learned to navigate the developmental partner’s world through real life, hands-on experience that I couldn’t gain anywhere else. I gained new perspective on human rights programming centered around key populations, and ways to engage developmental partners to make it a reality.

Any words of advice to the next generation of global health professionals?

Find ways to take initiative in every activity or assignment that comes your way! I knew nothing about voluntary medical male circumcision before the EQA. But having a supportive team boosted my skills and my confidence with this subject matter. I was even asked to support the next EQA.


Brian Kanyemba was part of PHI's GHFP-II internship program in the USAID South Africa Health Office