The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS – UNAIDS held its 42nd Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) meeting, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, on 26–28 June 2018. The PCB is comprised of representatives of 22 governments from all geographic regions, the UNAIDS cosponsoring organisations, and five representatives of nongovernmental organisations, including associations of people living with HIV. The PCB meetings are organised without the presence of media and focus on aligning the financial, human resources, reporting and monitoring practices with the programmatic goals of the organisation.
This year’s meeting concluded that the progress towards the commitment of the organisation, ending the AIDS epidemic, is steady and ongoing, while many challenges remain. Significant focus of the conversations was on the Unified Budget, Results and Accountability Framework, which aims to maximize the coherence, coordination and impact of the UN’s response to AIDS.
A large part of the discussion focused on a revised working model, aiming at a more efficient UNAIDS at country level and improved cooperation between the Secretariat and the cooperating organisations in accordance with a wider UN reform. The importance of moving to country-level reporting to increase the accuracy of reporting and tracking the progress of individual countries was highlighted. The board also requested UNAIDS to further develop and strengthen its collaboration with member states, funding mechanisms and other partners to eliminate and reduce discrimination in health care settings, a major barrier around the world limiting access to life saving medicines.
This year’s meeting also drew significant attention in relation to the ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by former staff members of UNAIDS. The organisations leader was also under fire due to his alleged mishandling of the case and intervening with the investigation. Civil society organisations working with HIV/AIDS-affected countries and populations were protesting this year’s PCB meeting outside the venue and were calling for the executive director to step down from his role.
These concerns were addressed by UNAIDS and its executive director during the meeting by the board members expressing their support for the measures that UNAIDS is putting in place to address harassment at the workplace. The focus of the introduced new policies was on the ways UNAIDS will work to prevent sexual harassment, unethical workplace behaviour and all forms of abuse. The board supported the creation of an Independent Expert Panel on prevention of and response to harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power at UNAIDS Secretariat, and agreed to work towards ensuring the independence and authority of the panel.
Finally, on the last day of the PCB meeting the board took part in a session on HIV-TB coinfection and discussed the steps required to end this deadly combination of diseases. The need to work beyond disease silos in order to ensure that patients with one disease are protected from the other was highlighted. Around 10 million new cases of TB occur every year and TB remains the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, accounting for one in every three AIDS-related deaths. It was clearly stated that more focus on the marginalised populations is needed. In addition to these technical discussions, the PCB demonstrated that political discussions are necessary to ensure the appropriate political commitment in order to receive the required financing. This will be particularly important as the member states gather to discuss tuberculosis at the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending TB on the 26th September this year.
While far from being the only global organisation working for the AIDS-free world, the meeting re-emphasised and underscored the critical role that the organisation has to play in ending the AIDS epidemic, as well as in working to promote the human rights of those affected by HIV/&AIDS and to end the stigmatisation and discrimination faced by many patients.
Read more about the 42nd PCB meeting here.