AIDS NGOs from northern Thailand have their say in new government report

Photo by sergis blogEarly next year, Thailand must report to the UN on its progress towards it previous commitments and international AIDS-related goals. The national report to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS is due next month, and efforts by civil society to get involved in its preparation appear to be finding a receptive hearing in Bangkok.

Recent meetings in Chiang Mai had led to calls for more participation from northern Thailand. Then came the surprise message: For the first time, the Royal Thai Government was inviting a civil society representative from the HIV community in the North to take part in their initial discussions, taking place in the capital on 26 November 2007.

Jutatip Dechaboon, from Partners Thailand (the national partnership platform for information, dialogue and advocacy on AIDS and TB), duly took her place at the table, representing a Working Group formed during a recent NGO gathering in Chiang Mai.

Returning home, Jutatip understood why some people have been unwilling to represent civil society at the national level.

“It is very difficult when a small number of people have to take decision on behalf of a very large number of people," she said. "After all, these decisions will affect every member of civil society. But existing mechanisms to nominate civil society delegates are not appropriately or systematically used, often resulting in the random selection of representatives that will have a say in national level decision-making she said.

But Jutatip and the other four members of the meeting's civil society delegation are aware of this gap and as a response are planning to disseminate as much information about the UNGASS 2008 report as possible beyond the meeting rooms. Guided by its Coordinator Channarong Wongwichai, the Thai NGO Coalition on HIV/AIDS (TNCA) is putting together a civil society preparedness document to be distributed through its network. Later this month, assemblies will be organized to distribute these documents, so that civil society understands the UNGASS process and can organize itself to participate in the national review.

“Not just in Thailand, governments of all countries are being pushed to engage civil society at every step of UNGASS review” Jutatip added.

Others fear that in some countries opportunities for involvement might be tokenistic.

“In Thailand, fortunately, the current leader of UNGASS review, Dr Petsri, has been actively working with civil society for a long time," Jutatip noted. "She very well understands the significance of civil society involvement. At the same time, it would be better if the government liaises with and involves civil society much earlier – rather than just two months before the UN report submission deadline.”

General awareness and understanding in Thailand about the AIDS review process remains limited. The recent example of the robust civil society response in support of compulsory licensing should be a source of encouragement. Despite the issues surrounding compulsory licensing being fairly technical and complex, a core group did the back-room research, analysis and simplified the messaging around the campaign

Jutatip feels a similar mechanism might be helpful for UNGASS review to genuinely engage civil society at a much broader level in Thailand. This includes a comprehensive awareness raising campaign, using simplified technical language, sharing regular updates and initiating dialogue at the community level via such opportunities as the existing monthly NGO Forum in northern Thailand.

The Thai Government is convening multi-stakeholder groups to draft specific sections for the 2008 UNGASS report.

"This is another huge opportunity to work closely with the government, build a credible relationship by being effective partners in putting together the 2008 UNGASS review report, and utilize this opportunity to build momentum for greater civil society preparedness towards UNGASS 2010 and other such similar review processes,” said Jutatip. “It is about lives. We urgently need to act.”

The initiative by Thailand’s government to involve civil society in UNGASS preparations has opened a doorway for civil society to organize itself for genuine participation around the final UNGASS review in 2010 and beyond.

Background information

In June 2001, UNGASS on HIV/AIDS was convened. Thailand is one of the 189 Member countries which had adopted the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS (DoC). The DoC reflects global consensus on a comprehensive framework to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halting and beginning to reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2015 (MDG#6). All national governments, including Thailand, who have signed the DoC, are required to submit progress reports periodically to the UNAIDS Secretariat in Geneva. The Thai government submitted progress reports in 2003 and 2006. The next report is due in 2008. For more information please click here

Northern NGOs on HIV/AIDS in Thailand had dedicated their monthly NGO Forum in October 2007 to mobilize a civil society response to the UNGASS process. This was organized by the Northern NGO Coalition on AIDS (NNCA) and Health & Development Networks (HDN), and Mr Sompong Chareonsuk, Country Programme Advisor, UNAIDS, Thailand, was one of the key speakers.

The civil society Working Group in Northern Thailand was then formed at the October NGO Forum, to increase civil society representation and participation from northern Thailand in UNGASS report-writing process on HIV/AIDS. One of the first decisions taken by the Working Group was to provide access to all available UNGASS-related information and documents via the Partners Thailand eForum (with 1,100+ members) and website, and at face-to-face meetings.

For more information about action in Northern Thailand:

Mr Titus Paipilai
Coordinator of Northern NGO Coalition on AIDS (NNCA)
Cell: +66-(0)85-037 7344 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +66-(0)85-037 7344      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
NNCA Office: +66-(0)53-350 683 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +66-(0)53-350 683      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Bobby Ramakant-CNS