Flanders and UNAIDS side by side against inequality

  • June 10, 2021

From 8-10 June, the UN High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS took place in New York. In the run-up to this summit, and after 40 years of the start of HIV and AIDS, the Government of Flanders approved its already fourth partnership agreement with UNAIDS in its session of the 4th of June (2021-22, for EUR 750,000 per year). More than ever, we need a strong UNAIDS to be able to actually realise the target that the entire world community reconfirmed in September 2015 within development goal 3, namely to bring about the end of AIDS by 2030.

This global campaign is anything but smooth sailing. For example, none of the intermediate targets for 2020 were achieved. Whether it is about passing on correct information about HIV and protection against it, combating discrimination against people living with or vulnerable to HIV, preventing new infections, or putting people living with HIV solidly on treatment, we are seriously behind on reaching each and every target. The biggest stumbling block here is that critically important Member States stubbornly refuse to acknowledge some scientific findings, namely that this infection has for a long time mainly affected some very vulnerable groups worldwide, that comprehensive sexuality education for children and adolescents is one of the most important tools in our prevention toolbox and that our solutions to remedy the high vulnerability of adolescent girls, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and sexual and gender minorities in general need to be greatly expanded. There is a refusal to commit to much more targeted prevention and care campaigns adapted to the needs and characteristics of each of these vulnerable groups, a refusal that only tends to increase when at the same time it becomes apparent that such more targeted strategies are best led by these communities themselves. The result of all of this is that for three years in a row now, the world has been confronted with the same number of infections, i.e. 1.7 million instead of the 500,000 targeted for 2020, while such infections are (again) increasing in at least 33 UN member states.

Flanders, therefore, has been actively involved in ensuring that the new global AIDS strategy for the period 2021-26 would acknowledge these harsh realities in order to be able to tie in once again with the startling progress of the past. With success, because more than ever before, the strategy is now focused on combating such discrimination and inequality of access to prevention, treatment, care and health for such vulnerable groups and on ensuring that various gender aspects are adequately taken into account. The fact that the results of the UN summit are not as ambitious just proves that a partnership with UNAIDS as the technical watchdog and coordinator within the UN remains of enormous importance. This will enable us to continue promoting globally the correct and science-based policy for the most effective and cost-efficient response to this pandemic on the one hand, and to assist the countries individually in the correct formulation of that response within their borders on the other. Only in this way can we regain the prospect of realising the end of AIDS, our equally ambitious and necessary target for 2030. An objective that we indeed must not lose sight of, especially in these extremely difficult times of COVID-19.

Putting it in the own words of Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima:

“The 2021 High-Level Meeting on AIDS will be the springboard for bold action over the next five years to end the inequalities that fuel the HIV epidemic and get the world back on track to achieving the 2030 goals. We are very grateful to Flanders for the renewed partnership agreement, a reflection of their trust in the value of investing in UNAIDS and the Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS to lead a global response that leaves no one behind.”

Photo: Maria Jane Nagita, een vrouw die drugs gebruikt, leunt tegen de stalen poort van het inloopcentrum van het Uganda Harm Reduction Network, gelegen in Mukono, een stad aan de rand van Kampala. 24 oktober 2019. Mukono, Oeganda. Credit: UNAIDS/E. Echwalu