The UNAIDS report advocates for policymakers to lend support to grassroots communities in order to put an end to AIDS

LONDON/GENEVA: The UNAIDS report strongly advocates for the empowerment of grassroots communities worldwide as the key to eradicating AIDS. Titled “Let Communities Lead,” it urges governments globally to provide unwavering support to communities on the frontlines, emphasizing that only with this support can AIDS be eliminated as a public health threat by 2030.

Released just ahead of World AIDS Day (December 1), the report underscores the pivotal role of communities in driving an end to AIDS. It emphasizes the need for governments and donors to break down barriers obstructing community work and ensure they receive adequate resources. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, highlights, “Communities globally have demonstrated readiness, willingness, and capability to spearhead this effort. However, their path is hindered by obstacles and insufficient resources. Decision-makers often view communities as problems to manage rather than recognizing and supporting them as leaders. Communities don’t impede progress; they illuminate the way forward to end AIDS.”

The report, unveiled in London at a World AIDS Day event hosted by the civil society organization STOPAIDS, showcases communities’ pivotal role in driving progress. Community advocacy, spanning from grassroots activism to legal battles and parliamentary engagement, has resulted in groundbreaking policy changes. Community-driven campaigns have notably expanded access to generic HIV medications, substantially reducing treatment costs from $25,000 per person annually in 1995 to under $70 in many heavily affected countries today.

“Let Communities Lead” underscores the transformative impact of investing in community-led HIV programs. It outlines how initiatives led by community-based organizations in Nigeria correlated with a 64% increase in HIV treatment access, doubled utilization of HIV prevention services, and quadrupled consistent condom use among populations at risk of HIV. The report also highlights the success of peer-based services among sex workers in the United Republic of Tanzania, resulting in reducing HIV incidence rates by more than half.

Robbie Lawlor, Co-Founder of Access to Medicines Ireland, asserts, “Communities serve as the agents of change in dismantling systemic injustices fueling HIV transmission. Despite groundbreaking progress in areas like U=U and improved access to medicines, communities struggle without adequate financial support. It’s time for communities to step into leadership roles rather than being sidelined in crucial discussions.”

The report underscores communities’ innovative contributions, citing initiatives like the use of e-bikes by Namibia’s Youth Empowerment Group to deliver HIV medicines and support to young people unable to attend clinics due to schooling. Additionally, in China, community-developed smartphone apps linking individuals to self-testing have significantly increased HIV tests across the country.

Moreover, communities are holding service providers accountable. In South Africa, networks of people living with HIV inspected numerous sites and conducted thousands of interviews, leading health officials to implement improved appointment protocols and dispensing of antiretroviral medicines to reduce clinic wait times.

Despite United Nations member states acknowledging the crucial role of communities in HIV service delivery in the 2021 Political Declaration on ending AIDS, funding through civil society organizations has regrettably decreased from 31% in 2012 to only 20% in 2021. This reduction in commitments has had severe repercussions, costing lives.

Solange Baptiste, Executive Director of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, emphasizes, “Community-led action remains the most vital component in combating AIDS. However, it’s alarmingly absent from global plans and funding mechanisms for pandemic preparedness and universal health care.”

UNAIDS emphasizes the urgent need for three critical actions: integrating community leadership into all HIV plans and programs, ensuring reliable funding for community leadership roles, and eliminating barriers preventing communities from leading.

The report features nine essays from community leaders sharing their achievements, challenges, and what the world needs to end AIDS as a public health threat.

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