The UK, which had funded UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV & AIDS, £15 million a year for the past five years, has just announced it plans to provide only £2.5 million this year – a more than 80% cut.
This slashing of UNAIDS’ budget mirrors drastic cuts across the board for HIV civil society and community organisations doing critical work in the HIV response. This includes £72 million in loss of funding for IPPF which will mean massive reductions to the U.K.’s flagship WISH (Women’s Integrated Sexual Health) programme. This initiative delivers life-saving contraception and sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls in some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized communities.
These cuts couldn’t have come at a worse time for the HIV pandemic. AIDS remains the number one killer of women of reproductive age and 1.7 million people acquired HIV in 2019. COVID-19 is now threatening to reverse years of progress and increase deaths, with nearly 75% of lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programs disrupted.
These cuts could jeopardise UNAIDS’s work supporting some of the most marginalised people, including LGBTQI+ people in developing countries who face arbitrary arrest; hurt its work to help girls education and empowerment; and lessen its ability to help countries end AIDS – furthering the continuation of a pandemic that threatens us all. People who use drugs, sex workers, people in prison and LGBTQI+ populations account for a small fraction of the world’s population, but globally (together with their sexual partners), comprised 62% of new HIV infections in 2019.
Whilst other donors are maintaining their support for UNAIDS and the HIV response, the UK’s cuts of over 80% to UNAIDS are completely at odds with the UK’s strong support for UNAIDS’ new strategy that was adopted last month. In the lead up to June’s High Level Meeting on HIV & AIDS and the G7 Summit, whilst other donors are stepping up, the UK risks abandoning its influence and leadership within the HIV response.
Even within the framework of the UK’s decision to reduce aid, the reduction to UNAIDS’ funding runs counter to the UK’s own objectives. The new UNAIDS strategy connects with the focus of the UK’s priorities including global health security; girls’ education; science, research and technology; and open societies and human rights.
A more than 80% cut in a very low cost, high impact agency that is key to driving progress on health security and tackling pandemics, on girls education, and which is responsible for coordinating the High Level Meeting on HIV & AIDS, undermines the UK’s own priorities – completely unnecessarily as £15 million is not an amount that will impact on the UK’s budget.
With the difficult decisions being made on ODA, investments which are small but which have a large catalytic impact are particularly high value for money. For the past 3 years, the UK’s own programme performance evaluation has rated UNAIDS as A. The cuts to this highly effective organisation is a direct contradiction to both the Government’s priority of supporting organisations who live up to their value for money principle and, more poignantly, the Conservative Manifesto to ending preventable deaths.
Lloyd Russell Moyle, MP for Kemp Town and Vice-Chair of APPG on HIV said:
Today’s announcement is a tragic blow for many of the world’s most marginalised people the UK once supported, and for the UK’s reputation in the global fight against HIV and AIDS. The cut of £12.5m from UNAIDS could jeopardise their work supporting some of the most marginalised people, including LGBTQ people in low- and middle- income countries who face arbitrary arrest; hurt its work to help girls education and empowerment; and lessen its ability to help countries end HIV and AIDS – furthering the continuation of a pandemic that threatens us all.
Saoirse Fitzpatrick, STOPAIDS Advocacy Manager said:
In the lead up to the G7 Summit and UN High Level Meeting on HIV & AIDS, these shameful cuts to HIV funding risk abandoning the UK’s leadership and influence within the HIV response at a pivotal moment. These cuts will hit the most marginalised communities around the world hardest. It threatens to undo decades of progress made in the HIV response that UK Aid has made possible. With 690,000 people dying from an AIDS related illness each year, the UK Government must urgently change tack and protect its funding for UNAIDS and other organisations doing vital work in the HIV response.
Christine Stegling, Executive Director at Frontline AIDS said:
“It’s clear that the UK Government has not learned one of the most basic lessons of this pandemic. Disinvesting in public health only stores up problems for the future.
“ For the first time in decades, there is a very real threat of hard-won progress on HIV and AIDS going into reverse. These cuts by the UK Government will actively increase that risk, setting the stage for a surge in HIV rates and AIDS deaths across many countries.
“The UK Government might also reflect on the fact that HIV, much like COVID-19, doesn’t recognise borders. An increase in rates in any country should and will eventually become an issue for every country. A maddeningly short-sighted decision.”
UNAIDS is leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.Since the first cases of HIV were reported more than 35 years ago, 78 million people have become infected with HIV and 35 million have died from AIDS-related illnesses. Since it started operations in 1996, UNAIDS has led and inspired global, regional, national and local leadership, innovation and partnership to ultimately consign HIV to history.
The more than 80% cut to UNAIDS’ funding was announced through a parliamentary question answer tabled by Lloyd Russell Moyle, Vice-Chair of APPG on HIV.
This press release is coordinated by STOPAIDS Contact: James Cole, STOPAIDS Advocacy Officer on 07421992348 for further comment and to arrange interviews