NOTES ON THE FIRST UNAIDS GLOBAL REVIEW PANEL MEETING
By Jeffry Acaba (NGO-Asia-Pacific) and Alessandra Nilo (NGO-LAC)
Pursuant to the 39th PCB Decision Point 6.4, UNAIDS was requested by the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) to establish a Global Review Panel to review the ‘fit for purpose’ and relevance of the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS. This was intended to respond to the budget crisis facing UNAIDS, with the aim to make the Joint Programme more efficient. The Panel review will include recommendations in updating the UNAIDS operating model based on three pillars: joint working, financing and accountability, and governance. The Panel was convened by Helen Clark, Administrator, UNDP as head of the UN Development Group, and Michel Sidibé, Executive Director, UNAIDS.
Alessandra Nilo (NGO-LAC) and Jeffry Acaba (NGO-Asia-Pacific) attended the first meeting of the UNAIDS Global Review Panel on the Future of UNAIDS last January 20, 2017. The first meeting set the parameters of the three pillars that will be reviewed by the Panel and opened the debates in each of these areas.
- On Joint Working
It was clear that there is a need to fully understand what constitutes “core work” for UNAIDS within the Joint Programme, as this determines how budgets are defined, organized and allocated, during the current financial crisis. There is also a need to find coherence between the work of the Secretariat and the Cosponsors in order to avoid duplication of work on the ground. From the point of management, much more should be done by the Secretariat in terms of coordination with the Cosponsors, including developing specific indicators on such coordination. Our general impression is that the time allocated, the methodology, and dedication of the Secretariat to perform its coordination role (inclusive at regional and country levels) need fundamental improvements.
In order to address that, interesting suggestions came out, e.g., having UN offices in one house (citing the Vietnam experience of One UN House), in order to simplify joint working and ensure continuous communication between Cosponsors and the Secretariat. We shared our perception that in the regional and country level, it is UNAIDS that serves as a convening body when it comes to HIV work, and the dismantling of UNAIDS offices was concerning for some of our community colleagues. We called on UNAIDS to have a better strategy to present itself as a Joint Programme, to make it clear to donors, communities, and the broader society that UNAIDS does complement the AIDS response and is still an essential body in addressing HIV.
There is also an urgent need to strengthen the national and regional structures. We proposed for instance, the establishment of national work plans of the Joint Programme in all countries where UNAIDS is present, to be created based on the Agenda 2030’s HIV related-goals, HLM, and Fast Track, along with the national context and national HIV/AIDS plans. That would entail: 1) knowing what needs to be done at country level with clear expected outcomes; 2) knowing the budget required by country, switching the logic of work based on proposing actions based on the pre-existing fund, which will then support national mobilization to raise the necessary resource needs to overcome the gaps identified. UNAIDS current management thinks it is wiser to reduce the number of countries under the Fast-track Strategy and focus on fewer countries, which was concerning to us.
- On Governance
There was a brewing proposal to include private sector in the governance of the UNAIDS PCB by providing a seat for them. However, we, and some Panel members, fought hard to clarify this and stood our ground against it, as this could open the conversation up to the level of ECOSOC, which is risky and problematic. We defended the principles of inclusiveness of the PCB, while at the same time argued against taking debates at the ECOSOC for inclusion of new members in the PCB. We asserted that while we are open to explore working with the private sector, we are against the inclusion of private sector, formally at the governance level of UNAIDS, i.e., PCB, due to issues of transparency, accountability, potential conflict of interests and constituency.
The intention of the proposal was that UNAIDS wants to explore how to work with private sector, in which any other co-sponsor, other than ILO (through tripartite), has no experience. Still, the extent and degree of engagement needs to be determined.
- On Financing and Accountability
UNAIDS Joint Programme has been consistently asked by the PCB to show results based on how they are managing their resources and what kinds of accountability mechanisms must be in place in order to show better results and for whom (specially with the SDG Goal of Ending AIDS by 2030). Improvements of the UBRAF were mentioned as part of the possibilities, but we did not define “what or how”.
We called on the Panel to ask UNAIDS to explore the development of new strategies that do not rely only on voluntary donations from Governments and suggested UNAIDS to set up specific contracts with Global Fund – without any implication on the governance of UNAIDS, but which can result in predictable funding for specific actions (earmarked fund).
For us, among the fundamental challenges is the need for two radical changes in the way UNAIDS works: 1) put in place a different and more radical resource mobilization strategy to be able to sustain the work of the Joint Programme by going beyond the government’s voluntary donations; 2) a new and re-structured communication strategy, in order to show the world why UNAIDS is important in the AIDS architecture (added value), and why it needs to be stronger in order to contribute to achieve the 2030 SDGs.
We know that the UNAIDS Joint Programme has been an important example of how the UN system could work hand-to-hand to deliver on AIDS. But we also understand that without renewing the strategies, changing the current path and looking for pathfinders, and strengthening the transparency, accountability and its leadership, it will very difficult for UNAIDS to achieve its goals and relevance, with its full capacity, in these challenging times.