Agenda 3 – intervention by Sonal Mehta, Asia Pacific delegate

Thank you madam chair.

In Zimbabwe, Julie is safe because UNAIDS has actively advocated with the government to provide free ARV. In Bangladesh, the local national AIDS program is preparing for mapping of key populations because UNAIDS is providing technical support. NGOs in India are excited as they prepare for the preparatory meeting for the Global Fund since they are sure that UNAIDS will help them get access to political leaders. Community groups in Ukraine reach out to the regional offices of UNAIDS to request support for training of CCM members. I can keep narrating how critically important UNAIDS is for us and for millions of people affected by HIV today, but I realise that we cannot be here for more than three days!

As a member of the Bureau, I know how much effort and energy have gone into ensuring that the expert panel was completely and fully independent. You can take the report and run it down in technicalities of how numbers and figures are not analyzed according to academic standards or how language is too direct. How diplomacy should have been used or how it could have been made more impersonal. The fact of the matter is that the report is honest, in fact painfully honest, direct and brings out the reality that staff association has been raising for years to the senior management, until it finally got the necessary attention of the board. Our PCB NGO Delegation now is hoping that the management takes the outcomes of the report and responds to the issues raised there, let me emphasise ‘respond’ – not react. The current Management Response neither responds nor reacts. It is in the space where there is a need to push the system a little while the Expert Panel report is at the space which is asking the system a revamp.

The issues of staff harassment including sexual harassment, and abuse of power, lack of trust in policies and systems, fear of speaking up, sense of isolation and groupism are issues that can’t be changed by training. It is a special situation and the minimum expected is that there is a special response, if not extraordinary. I am sure many of you have read the much awaited staff association report which clearly says in point 3 — The Panel’s report paints a picture of deep frustration, lack of trust, injustice, impunity and disfunction. We are deeply concerned by the views and experiences of staff described in the Panel’s findings. But, the Panel’s findings do not surprise us. Many of the same views and experiences have also been expressed by staff in the anonymous USSA surveys over the last few years – and in other places, they note that they have been raising the issues since 2011 that have been ignored from the leadership side!

As representatives of millions of people we serve as community members and as fellow civil society, it is hard to sit here and keep justifying that how everyone should be given yet another chance, sending the message that it is ok to continue to do so for some more years – but it is not OK. We need a stronger UNAIDS, because its lack of focus on pricing and intellectual property, will result to people not having access to treatment and deaths, and the lack of prevention programmes will increase HIV among young people. Advocacy for funding for HIV is going down day by day, due to lack of voice and solidarity, civil society is being shut down in many countries. Due to the excuse of “new priorities”, donors are walking in and out of countries at their terms, not the needs of the country. None of this is ok and this is where we know that a stronger UNAIDS is what we need.

In my many years of working on HIV, I have experienced this institution in my country, the regio,n and globally, as vibrant, supportive and integral to the HIV response. In some ways, the health of UNAIDS reflects the health of HIV response in the countries – we keep shouting about the need for prevention but no one responds, we keep shouting about lack of services but no one listens. But I think a time comes when everyone realises that business as usual is not OK, and that time is here for UNAIDS. The staff association report released yesterday is more forward thinking than the management response. Three suggestions of way forward of many given by them summarise for me the actions needed – full responsibility and accountability of senior leadership, accountability of managers, and prevent retaliation – these three encompass succinctly the environment of the organisation. I call upon the PCB to realise this is drastic situation and if we do not take a drastic stand the world will conclude that it is ok for the PCB to let the harassment including sexual harassment pass by because UN is above any law. The UNAIDS PCB WE NEED has to show courage in acting on the results they invited.


43rd PCB

Agenda item 3
Delivered by Sonal Mehta, NGO Asia-Pacific

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