A group of Civil Society Organizations based in Kenya has called for urgent, comprehensive reforms in the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), following the mishandling of sexual harassment allegations that threatens the credibility of the global AIDS agency.
The call, which was made at a joint Press conference echoes the concerns and demands made by organizations like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Treatment Action Campaign, Section 27 and Sonke on the same issue.
The UNAIDS mission is to lead, advocate and inspire the world in achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Its purpose is to eradicate an epidemic that spreads wherever prejudice, violence and shame displace compassion, tolerance and integrity.
However, various reports have revealed deep flaws in the management culture at UNAIDS that ignores the very abuses the joint programme is trying to prevent.
Globally and in Sub-Saharan Africa, women have the highest burden of HIV, with the global number of women living with the virus estimated to be more than 18 million.
Also, the shocking revelations the world has witnessed since the advent of the #MeToo movement, reveals an endemic problem that has eaten deep into every fabric of the society, including the public health domain; with women and girls at the receiving end.
“It is mishandling of this case and the slew of unpleasant revelations that have followed say otherwise, to restore public trust and credibility, UNAIDS must create a safe enabling environment and leadership culture that promotes gender equality, protection of women’s rights, transparency and an independent, fair process for addressing employee grievances at all levels within the organisation, void of intimidation and fear,” the group said.
The group strongly tasked UNAIDS to live up to its position and responsibility as a global advocacy leader in the HIV/AIDS response.
“UNAIDS must remember that it is accountable to the entire global community, including Civil Society Organizations, and we want to see that accountability in all facets of its operations and procedures.
A first step would be to make public the report of its investigations on this issue and provide updates on the mechanisms that have been put in place to avoid reoccurrence” shared Alice Kayongo, AHF Regional Policy and Advocacy Manager, East and West Africa.
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They called on UNAIDS to commission an independent audit into its reported numbers of people living with HIV on treatment, across the globe, a demand that has been made by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and other advocates over the years, to no avail.
The group also urged UNAIDS to ensure full implementation of its plan to prevent and address all of forms harassment and unethical behaviour.
According to the joint program, the five-point plan seeks to ensure that unethical conduct and abuse of authority are identified, that the measures taken are documented, and that actions to be taken follow due process in a timely and effective manner.
In addition, UNAIDS also announced the establishment of an external high-level independent panel to provide recommendations on strengthening the implementation of the zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.