MOPAN Assessment of UNAIDS Secretariat

In August 2023, MOPAN published its assessment of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) Secretariat. This is the fourth MOPAN assessment of UNAIDS, following previous ones in 2005, 2012 and 2015-16.


Operating since 1996, UNAIDS Secretariat supports the Joint Programme that brings together 11 Cosponsor agencies. It is governed by the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), which comprises 22 member states, Cosponsors and civil society organisations. 

UNAIDS' mandate is to end inequalities and get on track to end AIDS by 2030 so that AIDS is no longer a public health threat, with associated targets of zero infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

This fourth MOPAN assessment of the UNAIDS Secretariat focuses on the global function of the UNAIDS Secretariat looking back on progress made by the Secretariat between 2017 and early 2021 in the areas of improvement that the last MOPAN assessment (2015-16) identified. It also looks ahead  from 2021 to 2026, the end of the current five-year workplan  and beyond, examining how fit-for-purpose the Secretariat is to perform its agreed core functions. Decentralised functions (regional and country) and the performance of UNAIDS Cosponsors are not in scope. As the Secretariat is part of the UNAIDS Joint Programme, some aspects of the assessment are inextricably linked to the Joint Programme Cosponsors.

MOPAN Assessment findings

UNAIDS Secretariat's main strengths:

  • It leads the development of the Global AIDS Strategy effectively and continues to improve the UBRAF as a results framework for the UN contribution to the global response.
  • It is recognised for its ability to lead an HIV-relevant policy dialogue with member states and for advancing global guidance and norms.
  • It is a key provider of strategic information. The data on the global AIDS epidemiology and response produced by the Secretariat’s strategic information unit support strategic planning effectively at country level.

Issues for UNAIDS Secretariat requiring attention:

  • The Secretariat is not able to address expectations of the Cosponsors, resulting in loss of confidence of key Cosponsor representatives and affecting its co-ordination function.
  • The Secretariat resource mobilisation strategy for the UBRAF has not kept up with the realities of global HIV funding (trending towards less HIV investment and more earmarked funding for specific activities), as it aims to sustain current budget and funding levels.
  • The Secretariat leadership pursues an advocacy agenda that deviates from the HIV pandemic, the Joint Programme’s core mandate. This has resulted in criticism of its core function of global leadership and also in accusations of mission creep.
  • The Secretariat needs to put appropriate resources, structures and monitoring in place to implement the 2023 WHO policy on sexual misconduct. Ensuring it does so in a victim/survivor-centred way will be essential for building trust as it emerges from a high-profile case of sexual harassment and abuse of power.

Considerations for the UNAIDS Secretariat, Programme Co-ordinating Board, Member states & Cosponsors:

The UNAIDS Secretariat may want to consider the following opportunities:

  • To start planning as soon as possible towards the “end of AIDS as a health emergency” in 2030, including a global event to celebrate the success of the global response and recommit to what remains needed at global level (e.g. cure and vaccine) and national level (equitable access to HIV services)
  • To engage PCB constituencies in post-2030 global HIV scenario planning and needs assessment for the specific UN contribution to the global response to HIV post 2030 (a process aligned with but different in scope than the “end game” planning for 2027-30)
  • To supplement the UBRAF resource mobilisation strategy 2022-26 with strategies to increase cost efficiency of UNAIDS Secretariat functions and operations and to hand over activities that are currently funded through earmarked funds, e.g., the Technical Support Mechanism and strategic initiatives.

The UNAIDS PCB and Member states may want to consider the following opportunites: 

  • ECOSOC and the UNAIDS PCB may want to consider going back to the drawing board in order to confirm the continued relevance of a UN system response to HIV post 2030 and to revisit its architecture and modus operandi. This might include considering a smaller Joint Programme, with a more focused Secretariat supporting a reduced number of UN agencies, and a reinterpretation of “co-sponsorship” in the Joint Programme.
  • The PCB could consider sunsetting elements of the Secretariat towards 2030 (“end of AIDS as a public health threat”) while sustaining critical functions. It could consider handing over functions such as country-level co-ordination (from UNAIDS country offices to a UN Resident Coordinator system), strategic information (e.g., to WHO), the Technical Support Mechanism (e.g., to the private sector) and resource mobilisation (to Cosponsors). Critical functions it may want to sustain are support to joint Cosponsor HIV programmes and global advocacy on behalf of Cosponsors.

UNAIDS Cosponsors may want to consider the following opportunities: 

Given that all the Cosponsors have committed to the Global AIDS Strategy, all Cosponsor agencies (their heads and boards) may want to reappraise their commitment to a Joint Programme and a Secretariat. They may want to assess their expectations of and contribution to a Secretariat. The PCB and ECOSOC may want to define “commitment” as:

  1. existence of a corporate HIV strategy, programme and budget and including 
  2. a full-time global HIV co-ordinator and
  3. financial contribution to co-sponsor a Joint Programme Secretariat.

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