SWITZERLAND — As global attention shifts and financial commitments waver in the battle against HIV, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has honed its focus on a pivotal strategy — community-led interventions.
This strategic shift, highlighted in UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima’s remarks within the organization’s annual World AIDS Day Report, addresses concerns over a notable decline in financial support to community-led organizations.
Byanyima unequivocally states that this reduction is taking a toll on lives, emphasizing the alarming consequence of obstructed HIV prevention and treatment services due to crackdowns on civil society and the violation of human rights, particularly among marginalized communities.
She highlights the adverse impact of harmful laws and policies targeting populations at risk of HIV, asserting that such measures not only jeopardize the lives of community activists but also impede the delivery of essential HIV services.
The World AIDS Day Report serves as an urgent call to action for governments and international partners, urging them to enable and support communities in their leadership roles.
It challenges the prevailing narrative that treats communities as problems to be managed rather than recognizing and supporting them as leaders.
The report underscores the significant role played by individuals living with and affected by HIV in steering the response to the pandemic.
Byanyima emphasizes these individuals as trusted voices, stating that communities possess an unparalleled understanding of what is most needed, what interventions work, and what systemic changes are required.
A political declaration resulting from a United Nations high-level meeting on AIDS in 2021 strengthens the call for community initiatives.
By 2025, the declaration envisions community-led organizations delivering 30% of testing and treatment services, 80% of HIV prevention services for high-risk populations, and 60% of programs supporting societal changes vital for an effective and sustainable HIV response.
Additionally, the 10–10–10 targets aim to eliminate punitive laws against LGBTQI people, people who use drugs, sex workers, and other often criminalized populations.
Simultaneously, they aim to reduce stigma, discrimination, gender inequality, and violence experienced by individuals living with HIV and those from key and priority populations.
In an enlightening addition, the report includes nine guest essays by community leaders, offering insights into how they have driven change, the obstacles they face, and the actions they advocate for governments and international partners.
These first-hand accounts provide a poignant illustration of the transformative power of community-led initiatives.
The report’s urgency and call to action come against the backdrop of the recent failure of the US Congress to reauthorize funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the world’s largest aid program for global health.
While this failure doesn’t automatically terminate PEPFAR, it casts uncertainty on its future. In the short term, PEPFAR retains the capacity to continue providing life-saving prevention, care, and treatment services in partnership with supported countries.