Meeting participants pose with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé (front row, fourth from left). (Click image to see a full-size version.)
In September 2014, UNAIDS launched its new Fast Track strategy aiming to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. In May, it convened over 50 civil society leaders from around the globe in Bangkok to develop a plan detailing how the HIV community and UNAIDS can best work together to advocate for accelerated, strategic, and more equitable international and domestic responses to HIV.
“Fast-tracking the AIDS response is about political mobilization,” said Chris Collins, chief of the UNAIDS Community Mobilization Division and amfAR’s former director of public policy, who moderated the two-day meeting. “A revitalized AIDS response won’t happen without civil society, and the reach to people who have been left behind has to come from the community.”
The Fast Track strategy calls for an increased focus on funding HIV interventions proven to have greatest impact and delivering them to most-affected key populations—men who sex with men (MSM), transgender individuals, sex workers, and people who inject drugs. As part of the strategy, UNAIDS set several targets for 2020, including eradicating HIV-related discrimination, ensuring that 90% of people living with HIV know their status, that 90% of individuals who test positive can access antiretroviral therapy (ART), and that 90% of those on ART achieve suppression of their HIV. Currently, less than half (46%) of the estimated 35 million people living with HIV know their status, and approximately 40% have access to treatment.
During the first day of the meeting, UNAIDS presented its proposed advocacy plan, and members of civil society, including representatives from different key populations, discussed steps for achieving the plan’s priorities—such as expanding community-based services, reallocating resources to ensure they have maximum impact, and reaching most-affected populations. They also shared current limitations and challenges to achieving these priorities in their own local settings.
During the second day, participants divided into working groups to carefully review the UNAIDS action plan. They proposed a number of key changes, including publicly releasing the plan’s priorities; explicitly mentioning pediatric treatment issues; developing a framework to monitor the strategy’s implementation; putting a greater focus on human rights; and ensuring that increasingly strict international patent standards adopted under new free trade agreements do not stifle the generic drug industry and drive up the cost of ART in developing countries worldwide.
“The meeting gave UNAIDS, civil society, and representatives of key populations an opportunity to come together, understand current situations, and discuss what the Fast Track strategy should include and the way forward,” said Giten Khwairakpam, TREAT Asia’s project manager for community and policy, who attended the meeting. “It is now for UNAIDS to pick up the ideas from the discussions, develop an outline for next steps, and work with the different stakeholders to achieve the objectives.”
At the close of the meeting, Collins reported that UNAIDS had changed its action plan in response to the feedback. “Now it’s about follow through, by all of us,” he said.