Feature story

Cities leading the way to achieving key targets in the HIV response

27 September 2023

Gathered in Amsterdam for the annual Fast-Track Cities conference between 25 ─ 27 September 2023, cities shared their various initiatives toward achieving key HIV targets.

In Nairobi, Kenya a situation analysis conducted at a granular level helped the county to better understand the gaps in the HIV response and to identify priority actions. The data showed that there was a lack of health service points, especially for key populations and young people living in informal settlements. In addition, stigma and discrimination also keeps people away. Zipporah Achieng, a young person living with HIV navigating the dusty streets of Kibera, one of several informal settlements, can attest to this. “Before, life was not easy, the healthcare workers were not well trained, and when they saw youth coming to the hospital, they would start judging them, discriminating them.”

The Nairobi City County, with the support of the USAID-funded joint UNAIDS-IAPAC Fast-Track Cities project, developed activities to create awareness, address vulnerabilities, and reduce discrimination with a focus on young people. Informal settlements house up to 60% of Nairobi’s population despite covering less than 10% of the city. Over a period of five years, community members worked hand in hand with healthcare providers in the establishment of 30 friendly health centres for young people and men who have sex with men and sex workers. As a result, stigma against people living with HIV has been reduced while the uptake of HIV and other health services increased significantly during this time.  

Ms Achieng is now a peer educator. She goes out in the community sharing her experience and getting people to come to the clinic. “Now I know what is right and what is wrong, I’m happy because life has changed, life is sweet, there is medicine, there is support, and I’m just happy,” said Ms Achieng.

Nairobi's commitment to fast-tracking HIV services for young people and key populations not only contributed to the city's own public health goals but also set an inspiring example for other urban centres in the country.

Discussions about sex and HIV in Indonesia remain taboo and information limited. As a result, HIV-related knowledge is low, especially among young people. In 2018, UNAIDS created an online chatbot named Tanya Marlo and integrated it in the popular messaging application LINE. “Before Marlo, finding reliable information about HIV and sexual health was really hard. It was difficult to get the right information”, says Arisdo Gonzalez, a user of the online application.

Support provided by the Fast-Track Cities project allowed this pilot to grow into a key tool to reach young people and increase HIV prevention and testing.

Last year alone, 200 000 engagements were recorded on social media and on average 100 users are directed to counselling every month. “Tanya Marlo has been an absolute hit among young people in Indonesia,” said Tina Boonto, UNAIDS Country Director in Indonesia. “Young people feel that they can chat with Marlo anytime, anywhere, and in secret, nobody has to know about it.” To ensure its sustainability and further development, a community group, YKS, has taken over the management of the application.

Kyiv joined the Fast-Track Cities initiative in 2016 and had made remarkable progress towards key HIV targets until Russia declared war in Ukraine. Many feared that treatment, HIV services and outreach would disintegrate.  Thanks to emergency funds and the support of the Fast-Track Cities project, a number of interventions were put in place to help those in need, in particular members of key and vulnerable populations like people who inject drugs and LGBTIQ+ members. “Since the invasion, we have managed to maintain our test numbers, didn’t lose a single patient, and ensured continued access to antiretroviral therapy” said Dr. Vitali Kazeka, Director of the Kyiv AIDS center.

One of Kyiv's notable achievements is the establishment of shelters designed to cater to the unique needs of key populations affected by HIV. These shelters provide a safe and supportive environment while also ensuring access to essential healthcare services, counseling, harm reduction programmes, and education about HIV prevention. “The Fast-Track Cities project makes people living with HIV, and those from key population groups, feel like equal citizens of the city… They see that there are special initiatives that care about them and their future,” said Nataliia Salabai, UNAIDS Fast-Track Cities focal person in Kyiv.

Launched in December 2014, the Fast-Track Cities partnership has grown to more than 500 cities and municipalities that have committed to accelerate their local HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and viral hepatitis responses to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.3 by 2030.

More than half of the world’s population currently live in cities and cities account for a large and growing proportion of people living with HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and other diseases. The risk of contracting, and vulnerability to, HIV and TB infection is often higher in urban areas compared to rural areas, because of urban dynamics such as social networking, migration, unemployment and social and economic inequalities.

In five years, 30 friendly health centres opened in informal settlements in Nairobi

Jakarta, Indonesia: Meet Chatbot Marlo

Despite war, Kyiv HIV outreach remains solid

Fast-Track Cities' initiatives to end AIDS