World AIDS Day: “We can end inequalities by letting communities lead” says UNAIDS executive director
Exemplifying the UNAIDS World AIDS Day theme of ‘Let Communities Lead’, National AIDS Trust and One Voice Network are proud to have hosted UNAIDS’ Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, to learn more about a pioneering partnership centering Black communities in HIV care.
The Unheard Voices project is a collaboration between National AIDS Trust and One Voice Network, an independent collective of Black-led community organisations, seeking to improve the health and wellbeing of Black communities in the UK who are affected by HIV. The project aims to end structural inequalities by ensuring Black communities living with or at risk of HIV can hold decision-makers to account, influence actions, and become part of the decision-making process.
According to figures from UKHSA, despite making up a smaller number of the overall London population, Black Africans represented 26% of all newly diagnosed London residents in 2021. Black Africans were more likely to be diagnosed late than the white population (57% and 32% respectively).
“It is through enabling communities like those I met today that we will end HIV transmissions and end AIDS as a public health threat. You light the way,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “As a black woman, I have experienced how difficult it is to make our voices heard. Your determination inspires me. Racism, sexism and homophobia are bad for our health. It is vital to let communities lead to address systemic inequalities in all aspects of life. That is how we will make sure that everyone’s right to health and social services is realised.”
By involving Black communities in decisions about their HIV care and commissioning, Unheard Voices aims to influence a health and support system which offers equitable standards of care, to reduce the disproportionate impact of HIV or HIV related stigma and discrimination.
Reverend Jide Macaulay, One Voice Network chairperson and Founder and CEO of House Of Rainbow, said: “The United Kingdom has made significant strides in combatting HIV and achieving UNAIDS goals; however, it is evident that the quality of life for Black African communities is currently at a critical low. Urgent actions are needed to allocate resources and provide support to address this issue.”
Oluwakemi Agunbiade, Policy and Campaigns Officer at National AIDS Trust, said: “When community voices are included throughout the journey of HIV service design, decision-makers benefit from a new perspective on how Black people impacted by HIV can be best supported. Without involving with Black communities, health care systems are missing out on vital information to understand how best to meet their HIV related needs.
“Whilst our upcoming report on community involvement in London HIV commissioning does highlight that many commissioners are engaging with community leaders, much more needs to be done. We strongly encourage a shift towards coproduction where community members are stakeholders with a say in their own healthcare. To further guide decision-makers, the Unheard Voices Report will also include best practice on how to overcome the barriers to effective genuine community involvement when designing HIV services.
“We’re so delighted to be able to let Winnie Byanyima know about the work of Unheard Voices and share UNAIDS vision of collaborative, community focussed interventions to improve the lives of people living with and affected by HIV.”
Ahead of World AIDS Day, Winnie joined representatives from National AIDS Trust and the twelve London based organisations who make up the One Voice Network, to gain a greater understanding of the grassroots work being done to support Black people living with HIV.
During the event, Winnie and attendees from within the HIV community were treated to a performance from the Joyful Noise choir. The choir, organised by One Voice Network organisation NAZ, are an inclusive, peer support group made up entirely of people living with HIV. The choir serves as a community for HIV-positive individuals, as well as an inspiring tool to help end the stigma associated with HIV.
UNAIDS is the specialised agency within the United Nations that works towards ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. For World AIDS Day 2023, UNAIDS are highlighting and uplifting the communities who are at the frontline of progress in the HIV response with their theme ‘Let Communities Lead’.
To coincide with World AIDS Day, UNAIDS have further highlighted the impact that community based organisations have had on the response to HIV in their Let Communities Lead report. Published this week, the report reveals how communities working to end AIDS are too often unrecognised, under-resourced and in some places even under attack.