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close this bookAbout UNAIDS (UNAIDS, 1997, 13 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA major reform
View the documentMission of UNAIDS
View the documentGuiding principles of UNAIDS
View the documentGlobal and local impact
View the documentGovernance
View the documentStrategic areas
View the documentStructure & staffing
View the documentFunding


June 1997

The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to progress. Each day, over 8,500 people are newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. UNAIDS estimates that over 22 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS, 90% of whom live in the developing world.

Meeting the complex long-term challenge of HIV/AIDS calls for an expanded response. Direct health interventions and action to influence the immediate aspects of AIDS prevention and care must be pursued and intensified, while innovative action must be undertaken to address the broader context of the epidemic, including its socio-economic causes and consequences.

A major reform

In recognition of this concern, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) was established in January 1996. UNAIDS is a co-sponsored programme that brings together the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank in a common effort against the epidemic. It is the first programme of its kind in the UN system: a small programme with a large outreach and the potential to lever significant resources and action through the creation of strategic partnerships.

The UNAIDS cosponsors bring to this joint endeavour complementary mandates and multisectoral expertise, ranging from education and socio-economic development to women’s reproductive health. They are committed to joint planning and action, giving UNAIDS a “cooperative advantage” that translates into greater synergy and efficiency. Benefits include more effective advocacy, more effective use of UN system resources through the sharing of costs, and greater coherence in United Nations support to national AIDS programmes.

Mission of UNAIDS

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.

Guiding principles of UNAIDS

· Long-term response: HIV/AIDS requires a long-term sustainable response, including coping capacity on the part of individuals and communities. UNAIDS helps to strengthen national capacity for action ranging from prevention and care to impact alleviation.

· Technical soundness: Action in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic must be not only expanded but also improved in quality through the identification and use of technically sound policies, strategies, tools and approaches.

· Focus on vulnerability: An effective response requires societal and structural change to reduce the vulnerability of women, young people, migrants, drug users, sexual and ethnic minorities and other population groups.

· Support, not coercion: A supportive social, political and legal environment helps individuals exercise their responsibilities to protect themselves and others from HIV infection.

· Human rights: People are entitled to enjoy all human rights without discrimination, including discrimination based on HIV infection status. These include the right to health, travel and privacy, the right to freedom from sexual violence and coercion, and the right to the information and means to prevent infection.

· Participation and partnership: A multisectoral response to HIV/AIDS can best be achieved through partnership.

· National autonomy: It is a national responsibility to design, implement and coordinate the response to HIV/AIDS at the country level. The role of external partners, including UNAIDS, is to support and build on national action.

· Complementarity: Rather than undertaking itself what can be or is already being done by others, UNAIDS attempts to facilitate these efforts and to fill gaps in action and research.

Global and local impact

At the global level, UNAIDS is the AIDS programme of the six cosponsors, carrying out the roles of policy development and research, technical support, advocacy, and coordination. At the same time, the six cosponsoring organizations integrate HIV/AIDS-related issues and UNAIDS policies and strategies into their ongoing work.

At the country level, UNAIDS can best be seen as the sum of AIDS-related activities carried out by its six cosponsors with the backing of UNAIDS technical guidance and resources. In countries where some or all of the cosponsors are present, their representatives meet regularly in a special “Theme Group” to jointly plan, programme and evaluate their AIDS-related activities.

In addition, UNAIDS has staff known as Country Programme Advisers posted in selected countries to support the Theme Groups on HIV/AIDS, to strengthen cooperation with national partners, and to provide technical support.

Important partners in national AIDS activities include governments (through both political leadership and the relevant ministries); community-based organizations; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); the private sector; academic and research institutes; religious and other social and cultural institutions; and people living with HIV/AIDS.


UNAIDS is the first programme of the United Nations system to have NGO representation on its governing body. The Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) is comprised of representatives of 22 Member States of the UN system, (including both donor and recipient countries), of the six cosponsors, of NGOs, and of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Strategic areas

Country support: The overriding goal of UNAIDS at country level is to enhance national capabilities to mount an expanded, multisectoral response to HIV/AIDS. Priority is given to nationally determined needs, in particular those of developing countries and economies in transition.

International best practice: Garnering practical experience from around the world, UNAIDS identifies sound policies and strategies that have proven to be effective - what is known as “international best practice”. These approaches are analysed and promoted with a view to their adaptation at country level.

The programme also supports research to develop new tools and innovative approaches for slowing the spread of HIV and improving the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS. Examples are vaccine development, vaginal microbicides for women, methods of reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and improved methods for preventing and treating the common opportunistic infections in HIV-infected individuals.

Structure & staffing

UNAIDS has adopted a flat organizational structure, with as few layers of management as possible. The programme consists of four departments: Policy, Strategy and Research; Country Support; External Relations; and Programme Administration. A total of 164 posts have been budgeted: 54 professionals and 37 support staff at UNAIDS Geneva Headquarters, 45 Country Programme Advisers and 28 Inter-country Technical Advisers working at the country level. The working culture values partnership, team work and facilitation.


With its modest resource base of US $ 120 million for the 1996-97 biennium, UNAIDS is not a funding agency. It is a small programme that aims to increase its impact and outreach through strategic alliances with its cosponsors and other partners. UNAIDS cosponsors fund their own HIV/AIDS country-level programmes and activities. A further US $ 20 million is being raised for joint UNAIDS/cosponsor activities at the global and regional levels. Funds are received from traditional donor countries, but also from developing countries (e.g. China and Thailand) and the private sector. UNAIDS aims to increase the resources available to national AIDS programmes by supporting fund-raising activities at the national level and providing training in resource mobilization to its national partners.

For more information, please contact Anne Winter, UNAIDS, (+41 22) 791 4577, Dominique De Santis, UNAIDS, (+41 22) 791 4765, Geneva, or Internet (