New HIV stats call out for AIDS expert to lead UNAIDS

On July 16, the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) issued an annual Global AIDS Update that finally tells the truth about the state of the world's HIV crisis: It's not over. Not even close.

That level of honesty hasn't been heard from UNAIDS for years—not since its last Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, made the fatal error of embracing a US-inspired commercial marketing approach to addressing HIV. Facts and reality were replaced with feel-good messages, glossy photos, and an endless series of slogans: People are drawn to success stories! the thinking went. If donors hear that AIDS is all but over, they'll rally round to end it, once and for all!

Prematurely promoting "the end of AIDS" backfired horrendously. Many of the dire consequences are illustrated in the Global AIDS Update 2019, a welcome break from the misleading past. But will the global body charged with informing and educating the world about HIV and AIDS keep heading in that direction?

That's a decision to be made by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who will choose a new Executive Director for UNAIDS over the next days and weeks. His selection must provide three things that have been missing for too long:

1) a UNAIDS leader with long experience and expertise in HIV who can mobilize the 11 agencies that make up UNAIDS, encouraging and supporting them to work in unison and bring the full weight of their UN agencies together toward the goal of ending AIDS;

2) a UNAIDS leader who will spend more time addressing the crisis than using the power of the office to run a personal PR machine; and

3) a UNAIDS leader whose personal attitude toward and treatment of women makes room for the un-self-conscious acknowledgement that adolescent girls and young women (alone, not combined with any other demographic group)—ARE a “key population” whose lives are under dire threat, and who deserve attention and concrete plans far more pronounced and targeted than a short chapter (shared with “young people”) at the tail end of a global report.