The UK government must keep its commitment to the global HIV response

By Shaun Mellors

Shaun Mellors is the Alliance's Director of Knowledge and Influence

ShaunWe are at a critical moment in the global response to HIV. With increased domestic and international investment, we can put the world on track to end AIDS by 2030. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) continues to be an important leader in the response.

Last September the UK committed £1.1 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a commitment that was welcomed by the Alliance. The UK is the second largest government donor to the global HIV response.

In addition, in late 2016 DFID gave some indications about the importance of HIV when it published its bilateral and multilateral development reviews.

It is within this context that I welcomed an invitation to give oral evidence to the UK parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC) inquiry into DFID’s work on HIV. You can watch the evidence session here.

We are living through unpredictable times. Now more than ever the world needs enlightened, evidenced-based leadership from governments like the United Kingdom.

I welcomed the UK’s leading role in the response and highlighted areas where we feel the international community can do more.

UNAIDS argues that we need to invest more if we are to end AIDS by 2030. Yet, for the first time ever, HIV spending dropped by 13% between 2014 and 2015.

I was also keen to point out that recent years have seen a steady de-prioritisation of HIV. Since 2004, when 4.9 million people acquired HIV each year, there has been great progress. However, in the last five years there are alarming signs that progress is grinding to a halt. Today 2.1 million people continue to acquire HIV every year, and the rate of new infections has remained at this level for the past five years. Only half of the 36.7 million people living with HIV are receiving anti-retroviral treatment (ART). Key populations, such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who use drugs and sex workers, continue to be disproportionately affected.

<p>Sex workers talk to outreach workers at a road side in Cherkassy, Ukraine. They receive information, support, male and female condoms, clean syringes if required and a magazine written by peers, typical articles include how to deal with harassment from the police or clients.</p>Sex workers talk to outreach workers at a road side in Cherkassy, Ukraine. They receive information, support, male and female condoms, clean syringes if required and a magazine written by peers. Typical articles include how to deal with harassment from the police or clients. ©International HIV/AIDS Alliance

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance is an alliance of independent national NGOs that work together with thousands of community organisations to deliver services to marginalised people. These communities are on the frontline of challenging human rights violations. Discriminatory laws in the 75 countries that criminalise LGBT people, violence against people who use drugs, and criminalisation of sex work are all examples of the human rights barriers to ending AIDS.

We are living through unpredictable times. Now more than ever the world needs enlightened, evidenced-based leadership from governments like the United Kingdom.

At the global level, the Alliance and its family has seen first-hand the vacuum created when policies are based on ideology rather than evidence. The UK should maintain its long-standing commitment to the global HIV response and ministers and senior civil servants should make every effort to attend international conferences and summits to defend and support the rights of key populations and civil society space.

The UK also has a role to play bilaterally, in a way that makes its significant multilateral investments in institutions such as the Global Fund even more effective. This includes building the capacity of civil society organisations, including investing in their capacity to advocate and hold their own governments to account.

It was an honour to give evidence to the IDC. The UK can be rightly proud of its contribution to the global HIV response, and the Alliance is committed to being a critical friend and to advocate for DFID’s continued efforts. We hope that DFID will develop a framework to guide its financing for HIV and ensures HIV is a central focus of its bilateral investments.