Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) is the main advocate for accelerated, comprehensive and coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
Formation26 July 1994 (1994-07-26)
TypeNon-governmental organization, Joint Programme
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersGeneva, Switzerland
UNAIDS Executive Director
Winnie Byanyima
Parent organization
United Nations Economic and Social Council

The mission of UNAIDS is to lead, strengthen and support an expanded response to HIV and AIDS that includes preventing transmission of HIV, providing care and support to those already living with the virus, reducing the vulnerability of individuals and communities to HIV and alleviating the impact of the epidemic. UNAIDS seeks to prevent the HIV/AIDS epidemic from becoming a severe pandemic.

UNAIDS is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, where it shares some site facilities with the World Health Organization. It is a member of the United Nations Development Group.[1] Currently, Winnie Byanyima[2] leads UNAIDS as Executive Director. Former Executive Directors are Peter Piot (1995-2008) and Michel Sidibé (2009-2019).[3]

The agency promotes the GIPA principle (greater involvement of people living with HIV) formulated in 1994, and endorsed by the United Nations in 2001 and 2006.[4]


  1. Leadership and advocacy for effective action on the pandemic;
  2. Strategic information and technical support to guide efforts against AIDS worldwide;
  3. Tracking, monitoring and evaluation of the pandemic and of responses to it;
  4. Civil society engagement and the development of strategic partnerships;
  5. Mobilization of resources to support an effective response.


The aim of UNAIDS is to help mount and support an expanded response to HIV/AIDS, one that engages the efforts of many sectors and partners from government and civil society.

Established by ECOSOC resolution 1994/24 on 26 July 1994, UNAIDS officially launched in January 1996. The organizations is guided by a Programme Coordinating Board with representatives of 22 governments from all geographic regions, the UNAIDS Cosponsors, and five representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including associations of people living with HIV/AIDS.


While UN AIDS was officially created in 1994 with UN resolution[5], and launched in 1996, the roots of UN AIDS can be traced back to the first recorded case of HIV/AIDS 15 years prior in 1981, and the launch of the Global Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (“GNP+") started in 1986 by Dietmar Bolle, an HIV positive specialist nurse and activist who aimed to connect people living with HIV/AIDS around the world.[6]

Origin: 1920s-1980 and Pre-HIV/AIDS Crisis

It is widely believed that HIV first crossed over from chimpanzees to humans in the 1920s in what is currently the Democratic Republic of Congo, through humans eating chimps infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), a virus similar to HIV.[7]

The first “verified” case of HIV was detected retrospectively using a blood sample from 1959 from a man living in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, albeit there are believed to be numerous other HIV cases prior based on observed symptoms and patterns of death.[7]

1981 First AIDS Cases Reported

The first ever AIDS cases were reported on June 5,1981 in the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s weekly epidemiological digest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly[6][8] which described rare pneumonias in five patients and "the possibility of a cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections such as pneumocystosis and candidiasis"[8]. In 1982, the CDC adopted the term AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. From 1981-1985, doctors around the world in countries such as Belgium and France, and African countries, Zaire, Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia.[6][9] In 1985, the CDC hosted the First International Conference on AIDS in Atlanta.[9]

Sexual Harassment Scandal

Sidibé offered his resignation from his post as head of UNAIDS following an expert report on sexual harassment in the agency that criticized his "defective leadership". Initially, when allegations surfaced in mid-2018, Sidibe refused to quit.[10] In response to heightened scrutiny and reports of his gross mismanagement, however, Sidibe informed the agency's board on 13 December 2018 that he would leave his post in June 2019.[11]

A panel of independent experts released a report on 13 December 2018 saying Sidibe was overseeing a "patriarchal" workplace and promoting a "cult of personality" centred on him as the all-powerful chief. The experts further said the situation could not be changed unless Sidibe, a native of Mali who has headed the UN agency for nine years, resigned.[11]

One official with ties to senior management at the UNAIDS Geneva secretariat also noted, under Sidibe's leadership, that "UNAids mirrors the whole UN as a ‘boys club’ with hierarchical and patriarchal culture of discrimination, lack of transparency and accountability that enables harassment."[12]

Sidibe denied claims that he tried to force an employee to drop allegations that she was sexually assaulted by his former deputy. Despite the scathing report, he insisted he was the right man to turn around the organisation, a claim which had been roundly rejected.

Staff, Sponsors and Partners


The cosponsors and the UNAIDS Secretariat comprise the Committee of Cosponsoring Organizations, which meets twice each year.


The Executive Director of UNAIDS is Winnie Byanyima, who assumed the role on 1 November 2019. Peter Piot was the first Executive Director of UNAIDS. He served from its inception in 1995 until 2008, when he departed to lead the Institute for Global Health at Imperial College London.[13] On 1 January 2009, Michel Sidibé became the new Executive Director of UNAIDS[14] until 2019 when he was appointed as Minister of Health and Social Affairs of Mali.[3] Following Mr Sidibé's departure and until the appointment of Ms Byanyima, Gunilla Carlsson, the Deputy Executive Director, Management and Governance, was appointed as UNAIDS Executive Director, ad interim. Shannon Hader is the Deputy Executive Director, Programme.[15]

UNAIDS has several Goodwill Ambassadors who help strengthen awareness of the organisation's work, including:[16] Myung-Bo Hong, Toumani Diabaté, Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Naomi Watts, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vera Brezhneva, Victoria Beckham and Pia Wurtzbach.[17][16]


The United Nations Declaration Commitment on HIV/AIDS provides the guiding framework for UNAIDS action. Promoting partnerships among various stakeholders is reflected within the leadership section of the Declaration of Commitment. In particular, it calls for complementation of government efforts by the full and active participation of civil society, the business community and the private sector through:

  • Establishing and strengthening mechanisms that involve civil society including faith-based organizations (FBOs), the private sector, and people living with HIV/AIDS at all levels
  • Encouraging and supporting local and national organizations to expand and strengthen regional partnerships, coalitions and networks
  • Full participation of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), those in vulnerable groups and people mostly at risk, particularly young people
  • Addressing issue of stigma and discrimination.

UNAIDS works to promote partnerships among and between this diverse and broad range of non-state entities. This calls for increases in both the number of new actors, as well as in innovative ways of working, to facilitate increased capacity of non-state entities to respond effectively to the epidemic at all levels.

With the momentum generated by the UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS, the main challenges are to:

  • Sustain and deepen involvement of those contributing and critical to the response such as PLWHA organizations
  • Move beyond the organizations already involved and reach out to optimally engage a broad range of sectors/actors.

UNAIDS has collaborated with the Roman Catholic Church, especially Caritas Internationalis, in the fight against AIDS, something which materialized in a December 2005 message by Pope Benedict XVI.[18] However, it indicated in a 2009 communiqué that it did not agree with the Pope's statement that condoms were unhelpful in AIDS prevention, instead calling them "essential".[19]

From policy to action

In engaging non-state entities in an expanded response to the epidemic, the UNAIDS Secretariat:

  • Fosters and supports global, regional and country level partnerships which include linkages between and among civil society, private sector, philanthropy, media, and with particular attention to organizations of people living with HIV/AIDS
  • Supports governments and UN agencies in developing partnerships with non-state entities. This includes support for approaches intended to increase participation, improve connectedness of efforts and strengthen the various participants' capacity for action.


As the main advocate for global action on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS leads, strengthens and supports an expanded response aimed at preventing the transmission of HIV, providing care and support, reducing the vulnerability of individuals and communities to HIV/AIDS, and alleviating the impact of the epidemic. To fulfil this mandate, UNAIDS is supported by voluntary contributions from governments, foundations, corporations, private groups (for example, students, universities, sporting clubs, etc.) and individuals.

In 2003, more than US$118.5 million was received from 30 governments, philanthropic organizations, individuals from around the world and others. The largest donors were the Netherlands followed by Norway, the United States, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Japan. In 2004, 35 governments contributed to UNAIDS.

See also


  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. "Winnie Byanyima joins UNAIDS as Executive Director". Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  3. "UNAIDS congratulates Michel Sidibé on his appointment as Minister of Health and Social Affairs of Mali". Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  4. UNAids GIPA briefing paper of March 2007
  5. "UN ECOSOC Resolution Establishing UN AIDS" (PDF).
  6. "UN AIDS: The First 10 Years" (PDF).
  7. "Origin of HIV & AIDS". Avert. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  8. "Pneumocystis Pneumonia --- Los Angeles". Retrieved 14 December 2019.
  9. "AIDS: the Early Years and CDC's Response". Retrieved 14 December 2019.
  13. UNAIDS. "Biography of former UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot". Archived from the original on 1 April 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  14. UNAIDS. "Biography, Mr. Michel Sidibe" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 May 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  15. UNAIDS leadership
  16. UNAIDS. "Goodwill Ambassadors and Representatives". Archived from the original on 1 April 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  17. Legaspi, C. Mendez (3 May 2017). "Pia Wurtzbach's dream to become AIDS advocate comes true". The Philippine Star. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  18. Partnerships in civil society Archived 2010-12-02 at the Wayback Machine
  19. La Croix article Archived 2009-03-22 at the Wayback Machine
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