By Helen Clark & Michel Sidibé
Clark and Sidibé explain how the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS delivers results through strategic partnerships across the AIDS response.
On World AIDS Day, we mourn the tragic loss of 1.1 million people to AIDS this year, and reiterate that we must all redouble our efforts to prevent the estimated 6000 new HIV infections which continue to occur each day. Today we gather our strength to confront new and continuing challenges, for the future of AIDS — and of UNAIDS.
We are worried about rising levels of new HIV infections in some parts of the world, and declining funding from some sources. One thing is clear: the end of AIDS is achievable, but not near. So how do we continue to deliver results for people?
Progress against HIV in recent years has been unprecedented. Led by the courage and tenacity of people living with HIV, in collaboration with civil society, communities, governments, and other stakeholders, AIDS was raised high on political agendas. The cost of life-saving antiretrovirals was dramatically reduced, transforming AIDS from a death sentence into lifelong health and hope for millions.
For two decades, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS has been active on every front—a remarkable and hard-won journey. Created with a unique governance model, UNAIDS has been heralded as a model of UN reform. It has been co-ordinating the global AIDS response across eleven UN organizations, and leveraging their comparative advantages at all levels. The Joint Programme remains the only UN entity to include civil society on its board; and its multi-sectoral approach has enabled the international community to deliver a unique form of synergistic support to countries. This has consolidated public health, human rights, and economic and social development approaches to deliver results going beyond health for countries and communities.
The Joint Programme pursues innovative partnerships with one goal in mind — to save lives and reach the most vulnerable. To do so, we have worked hand-in-hand with civil society to elevate AIDS to an issue of social justice and shatter the silence and stigma which once allowed the epidemic to spread unchecked. Today, millions of marginalized people count on our solidarity to protect their dignity and rights—poor people, young people, women and girls, migrants, and key populations such as sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs, and prisoners. Through UNAIDS, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has pioneered interventions at the nexus of human rights, health and development.
UNAIDS supports countries in mobilizing new resources and maximizing existing ones. In 2011, we joined partners to help countries roll out national HIV investment cases which have enhanced dialogue with key players such as the United States’ PEPFAR and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. UNAIDS has been supporting African countries to reduce their unsustainable reliance on external investments. The African Union Roadmap on Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity has helped boost domestic spending on AIDS by more than 150 per cent since 2011. The Global Fund relies on the Joint Programme to ensure that its grants enable countries to scale up the most effective and efficient HIV programmes. Since 2002, UNAIDS has helped more than 100 countries mobilize US$16 billion from the Global Fund.
The global community has committed to ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. This is a realistic ambition, but much more needs to be done to get there. We must defend the most vulnerable so that no one is left behind. Millions of women and girls continue to face violence and social exclusion. Less than half of all adults and children living with HIV were accessing life-saving treatment in 2015.
We are at a precarious point in our journey to end AIDS — significant political, financial, and implementation challenges remain. If we falter, we risk a resurgence of the virus. Resources will dwindle and the continuity of services which millions depend on will be fractured. Lives are at stake.
We are gravely concerned that the shift in development priorities and the growing gap between political commitments and financial commitments will endanger not only the future of UNAIDS, but also the goal of ending AIDS. The UNAIDS Joint Programme represents less than one per cent of investments in the global AIDS response, and is currently forced to balance increasing demands for support and a shrinking budget.
The only path to the end of AIDS is to secure adequate and predictable resources for the most effective, evidence-based interventions delivered at scale. We believe that the true measure of success for the UN is not how much we promise, but how much we deliver, especially for those who need us most. UNAIDS has worked to make the money work for the AIDS response, by challenging structural barriers and by building enabling environments for services to be delivered and for people to access them.
The response to AIDS needs the Joint Programme’s multiplier effect now more than ever—to continue to leverage the actions of multiple stakeholders, and to help countries and communities achieve the ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals. Its role within the UN system and in supporting countries remains indispensable to realize a future free of AIDS. Sufficiently resourcing both the AIDS response and the Joint Programme is therefore critical. We have the knowledge and we have the strategy to end this epidemic. UNAIDS must be supported to do all it can to support the wider AIDS movement to achieve that goal.
Helen Clark is the Administrator of United Nations Development Programme and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Michele Sidibé is the Executive Director for UNAIDS.