PloS one 2018 02 2313(2) e0192765 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0192765
There is growing recognition in the health community that the legal environment-including laws, policies, and related procedures-impacts vulnerability to HIV and access to HIV-related services both positively and negatively. Assessing changes in the legal environment and how these affect HIV-related outcomes, however, is challenging, and understanding of appropriate methodologies nascent.
We conducted an evaluation of a UNDP project designed to strengthen legal environments to support the human rights of key populations, in particular LGBT populations, women and girls, affected by HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. We analyzed data on activities designed to improve legal environments through a systematic document review and 53 qualitative interviews.
The project made substantial strides towards legal change in many places, and examples provide broader lessons for work in this area. Two core pillars appear fundamental: a government-led participatory assessment of the legal environment, and building the capacity of those impacted by and engaged in this work. Systematic attention to human rights is vital: it can help open new spaces for dialogue among diverse stakeholders, foster new collaborations, and ensure local ownership, nuanced understanding of the political landscape, attention to marginalized populations, and accountability for (in)action. Entry points for effecting legal change go beyond "HIV laws" to also include other laws, national policies and strategies.
Conducting legal environment assessments, multi-stakeholder dialogues, action planning and related activities, alongside capacity building, can contribute to changes in knowledge and attitudes directly relevant to reforming laws that are found to be harmful. Shorter-term goals along the causal pathway to legal change (e.g. changes in policy) can constitute interim markers of success, and recognition of these can maintain momentum. Increasing understanding of progress towards changes in the legal environment that can positively affect HIV-related outcomes is important in working to improve the health and lives of people living with HIV.