By Shona Schonning and Aisuluu Bolotbaeva - INPUD

In January of 2019, the landscape of support for many people living with or affected by HIV in Kyrgyzstan had changed radically. The middle-income country, already facing declining donor funding for the HIV response, had the services of their three community-led, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) put to an end due to the cease of funding from the country’s Global Fund (GF) programme. The funding was given to other organisations to provide these services. However, this sudden change left the community of the most marginalised people who inject drugs and people living with HIV with interrupted access to services and changes in service quality.

In April of 2019, the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD), with support from the Community Rights and Gender Technical Assistance Programme (CRG), decided to investigate the situation to identify measures that might be taken to ensure access to needed services. On top of that, the investigation also intended to learn any lessons that might be relevant to Kyrgyzstan and other middle-income countries facing similar reductions in donor funding and slow implementation of social contracting. An international and a local consultant were contracted to conduct a series of interviews and focus groups to gain an understanding of the situation, with their primary focus on services for people who use drugs.

Kyrgyzstan, a lower middle-income country, is facing decreasing donor support for its response to HIV. Social contracting has yet to fill the gaps left by the decrease in donor funding for social services. In the face of decreasing funding from the Global Fund (specifically a 30% reduction in funding from its previous grant), the Kyrgyz Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) had come to a decision in 2014 to gradually reduce some of the costlier services such as shelters, half-way houses and drop-in centres. The decision took place as the CCM was in the midst of preparing the concept note for its currently ongoing programme, which will be completed by the end of 2020. At the time, it was expected that the country would begin to finance these programmes through social contracting. Community representatives and their constituencies were consulted on the decision and had agreed to this strategy for cost reduction.

Community representatives from Ranar, Prosvet and Crying Crane reported that in November of 2018, officials from the principal recipient (under UNDP) had informed them that their funding would continue despite the fact they would have to reduce their budgets. In response, each organisation reduced their budgets as agreed. Shortly after the conversations, UNDP unexpectedly announced a tender by 26 December 2018, in which the three organisations were informed that their funding would be discontinued. The abrupt end of funding failed to allow them the space and time to find alternative sources of funding, as well as to plan ways to ensure a proper handover for the continuity of services for their beneficiaries.

When the decision was made in 2018 to gradually reduce the number of NGOs providing services, it was not done with the intention of halting the services that were provided by community-led organisations. However when the reduction was implemented, it turned out to be these very community-based organisations that were affected. Three organisations: Ranar — which is led by people who use drugs (PWUD); and Prosvet and Crying Crane — both of which are led by people living with HIV (PLHIV) suddenly had their funding cut and had to abruptly stop providing services to their beneficiaries. Interviewees — both from among the affected community-led organisations and from UNDP — highlighted that the community-led organisations did not win the tender due to the cost of their services, and not because of the quality of the services. As a result, the quality and accessibility of services to their beneficiaries was afflicted.