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Global Alliance at the UN High Level Meeting for HIV/AIDS and Side Events

August 21, 2021

UNHLM HIV/AIDS Blog Series: Part 1

The United Nations High Level Meeting (UNHLM) for HIV/AIDS and side events were held virtually from June 8-11 2021.  During the HLM, world leaders in the General Assembly adopted the Political Declaration which pledged urgent, transformative action to stop the global AIDS epidemic.  

The virtual format provided an opportunity for the Global Alliance to have a larger presence.  We were represented by Evelyn Tomaszewski, co-chair of our Global Mental Health Task Force, Erica L. Hamilton, Surasya Guduru, and myself. As an organization, we focused on the inclusion of mental health and psychosocial services (MHPSS) in HIV and AIDS programming. Each of us have additional professional experience related to the AIDS epidemic, broadly including public health research, social work and international community development. 

Recently, the Global Alliance adopted a Resolution on the Inclusion of MHPSS in HIV/AIDS Programming focused on recommendations for the infusion of equitable and appropriate community-based MHPSS into multiscale HIV/AIDS services across low-, middle-, and high-resourced communities. We are encouraged that the full political declaration adopted at the UN HLMEnding Inequalities and Getting on Track to End AIDS by 2030, does incorporate mental health and well-being; however, we are disappointed that mental health was not incorporated as a priority within the HLM panels themselves. 

This is not surprising though, given that more generally, current estimates suggest that only 1% of global health expenditures are invested in mental health (from WHO Mental Health Atlas 2017), a fact that stood out to me during the side event Driving Faster Progress in the Fight Against HIV: How Integrating Mental Health is a Win-Win. In this session, new evidence was released by United for Global Mental Health. The research answers critical questions about the impact of integrating MHPSS into HIV/AIDS programming for the first time. Key findings of their research shows that infusing MHPSSS will not only help millions of vulnerable people with ill mental health, but also contribute to ending the HIV pandemic more quickly and does not need to be expensive. They estimate that it will further speed up the reduction of HIV infections by 10-17% and see almost 1 million people avoid contracting HIV.

In the second thematic panel, Putting People and Communities at the Center of the Response to AIDS, Ms. Vuyiseka Dubula-Majola, Director of the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management, Stellenbosch University articulated one of the most critical concepts, that it is not people that are hard to reach, as is frequently argued, but rather that it is the services that are hard to reach. Fundamentally, this explains past failures and lays the foundation for future opportunities in the response to the AIDS epidemic by acknowledging and prioritizing people and their communities.

My colleagues’ blog posts will further examine key takeaways of the meetings and events and their experience of the week.

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