UNAIDS - United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS

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The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (more popularly known as UNAIDS) acts as the primary advocate, coordinator and facilitator to ensure a more unified global response to HIV/AIDS.

Launched in January 1996 by a resolution of the UN Economic and Social Council, UNAIDS' fundamental objective is to mainstream and integrate HIV/AIDS activities based on a consensus of policy and programmatic objectives by a partnership of international stakeholders.

UNAIDS oversees a coordinated association of cosponsoring organizations, which includes the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the following seven UN-led agencies:

  • The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • UN Women

UNAIDS is governed by a Programme Coordinating Board comprised of the UNAIDS Secretariat, the Committee of Cosponsoring Organizations, and representatives from 22 governments and five non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The UNAIDS Executive Director functions as Secretariat and is appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Peter Piot, a well-known epidemiologist and one of the first to discover the Ebola virus, was the organization’s first Executive Director. Piot was succeeded by Michel Sidibé, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General, in 2009. Winifred ‘Winnie’ Karagwa Byanyima replaced Sidibé in 2019. Byanyima served as Executive Director of Oxfam International prior to becoming the UNAIDS Executive Director.

The Role of UNAIDS

Unlike the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) or The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis or Malaria, UNAIDS does not function as the principal financing mechanism for HIV/AIDS programs (although it and many of its Cosponsors, including the World Bank, do issue grants and loans on the country and program level).

Rather, the role of UNAIDS is to provide support in policy formulation, strategic planning, technical guidance, research and development, and advocacy within the framework of a global work plan.

At the country level, UNAIDS operates through a "UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS" with a Secretariat staff and resident coordinator in selected countries. It is through this group that UNAIDS can ensure technical, financial and programmatic support consistent with the country's national plan and priorities.

Additionally, under the United Nations Declaration Commitment on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS actively engages and supports the participation of non-state entities—including civil society, business, faith-based organizations (FBOs), and the private sector—to complement the government’s response to HIV/AIDS. This includes the promotion and advancement of human rights and gender equality, addressing such issues as stigma, discrimination, gender-based violence, and criminalization of HIV within the framework of the national dialogue.

The Goals of UNAIDS

UNAIDS has six principal goals outlined in their founding manifesto:

  1. To provide leadership and attain global consensus on a unified approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
  2. To strengthen the capacity of the United Nations to monitor epidemic trends and ensure the appropriate systems and strategies are implemented at the country level.
  3. To strengthen the capacity of national governments to develop and implement an effective national response to HIV/AIDS.
  4. To promote broad-based political and social mobilization to prevent and respond to HIV/AIDS within countries, and; 
  5. To advocate greater political commitment at both the global and country level, including the adequate allocation of resources for HIV/AIDS activities.

UNAIDS Strategic Goals, 2011-2015

In 2011, under the construct of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) established by the United Nations in 2000, UNAIDS expanded its strategic objectives to achieve a number of key targets by the year 2015:

  • To reduce the incidence of sexual transmission of HIV by 50%, including at-risk populations of men who have sex with men (MSM) and commercial sex workers.
  • To eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, while halving the number of HIV-related maternal deaths.
  • To eliminate HIV transmission among injection drug users (IDUs).
  • To reduce the number of tuberculosis (TB)-related death among people with HIV by 50%.
  • To reduce the number of punitive laws surrounding HIV transmission, commercial sex work, drug use, and homosexuality by 50%.
  • To reduce HIV travel and residency restrictions in half of the countries that have such laws.
  • To ensure that the HIV-specific needs of women and girls are met in at least half of all national responses to HIV/AIDS.
  • To ensure zero tolerance for gender-based violence.

In a 2013 review by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, progress in achieving many these goals was quantified and evaluated. Among the findings:

  • From 2001 to 2011, the number of adults and children newly infected with HIV dropped by 21%. All told, approximately 2.5 million people are newly infected with HIV each year.
  • Eight million people in developing countries have been placed on antiretroviral therapy (ART), with projections suggesting that 15 million will have access to treatment by 2015.
  • Seven African countries reported a 50% reduction in new HIV infections among children since 2009. Coverage of mother-to-child interventions has increased to 75% in many priority countries. In South Africa alone, MTCT rates have dropped to 5%, down from a high of 37% in 2000. Still, only 57% of pregnant women with HIV are receiving the ART they need.
  • Between 2004 and 2011, 17 out of 44 countries with high HIV/TB prevalence reported greater than 50% reductions in death among people with HIV. Overall, there has been a 38% reduction in TB deaths, bolstered largely by intensified TB identification, greater infection control, and the widespread use of prophylactic medication to prevent TB infection in vulnerable populations.
4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. UNAIDS. Modus Operandi of the Programme Coordinating Board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

  2. UNAIDS. The Governance Handbook.

  3. UNAIDS. Gaps and needs by strategic goal/function.

  4. United Nations Economic and Social Council. Report on progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Africa, 2013.

Additional Reading

By James Myhre & Dennis Sifris, MD
Dennis Sifris, MD, is an HIV specialist and Medical Director of LifeSense Disease Management. James Myhre is an American journalist and HIV educator.