08 Jul 2019

Communities Delegation at the 32nd Executive Board of Unitaid

The Executive Board of Unitaid held its semi-annual meeting in Seoul, South Korea, on 19 and 20 June 2019. The Communities Delegation (CD) to the Board, representing people living with the diseases, actively participated in the discussions and was represented by the Board Member, Liaison Officer and four delegation members. This brief report summarises the key issues discussed at the Board meeting, the Communities Delegation’s positions, and the resulting outcomes and decisions.

Midterm strategy review

Adopting the midterm review (MTR) of Unitaid’s 2017-2021 strategy, the Board acknowledged that Unitaid is on track towards its mission to maximise the effectiveness of the global health response by catalysing equitable access to better health products. The review confirmed that Unitaid’s investments support highly innovative health products such as medicines and diagnostic tools, which can save lives of millions of people and create greater impact for the global health response.

As Unitaid’s portfolio and work areas continues to expand, the Delegation emphasised the need and the opportunity to update the current Civil Society Engagement (CSE) Plan that provides the framework for involvement of Communities and NGOs within Unitaid grants and scale-up of the interventions. “We must innovate the way Unitaid works with Civil Society, specifically for demand creation and grant implementation,” said Communities Board member, Kenly Sikwese. “We also want to drastically increase the awareness among local stakeholders, from government officials, health care workers to patients, about the important interventions that Unitaid funds in their country.”

During a side meeting with the Communities Delegation, Executive Director Lelio Marmora agreed that the involvement of Communities within Unitaid grants must be significantly improved and welcomed the Delegation’s suggestion to establish a new model for Civil Society Engagement. The Delegation and the Secretariat will meet later in the year to agree on a new approach for a community-led demand generation framework within Unitaid projects. The new model will provide more opportunities for community-based organisations to work closer with grantees and to develop scalability and sustainability plans across the Unitaid portfolio.

The MTR report findings were approved by the Board and the Secretariat will present the next steps at the Policy and Strategy Committee meeting in October.

The report from the Chair of the Proposals Review Committee (PRC) highlighted some areas for improvement of the PRC, the independent expert body which provides advice to the Secretariat and the Board on the grants proposed for funding. The report suggests including Community Engagement experts in the PRC membership to provide advice in areas such as demand generation. The inclusion of community representatives in this important technical review panel has been a long-standing demand from the Communities delegation.

Communities Delegation at the 32nd Executive Board meeting of Unitaid

The Secretariat presented a portfolio performance update which included a high-level overview of Unitaid grant portfolio, the assessment of the performance of each grant, and a review against 2018 Key Performance Indicators. The Delegation congratulated the Secretariat on the cost savings generated by grants like the Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) grant and highlighted the good example of CSE best practices implemented in the ART Optimisation Dolutegravir project. “The investments Unitaid has made in Dolutegravir is changing the way HIV is treated globally. The data generated by the Unitaid-funded studies are today informing WHO policies and guidelines, with a direct impact of our investments. Sometimes we take this crucial work for granted,” said Sikwese.

The Board furthermore agreed that Unitaid could consider an expansion with more Board members if they commit and demonstrate sustained support for Unitaid’s mission. The Board discussed potential new members and the resource mobilisation opportunities in this context.

Chagas disease

Unitaid is constantly seeking new ways to stimulate innovation and bring new life-saving products more affordably and sustainably to communities in need. With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global health landscape is changing, requiring Unitaid to strategically reposition itself in a global landscape that emphasises integration and achievement of results across disease areas.

Following initial discussions during the Policy and Strategy Committee workshop last May, the Secretariat presented a formal case for consideration to the Board to expand Unitaid’s mandate and work on Chagas disease.

During the pre-meetings, the delegation also organised a webinar on Chagas disease to learn more about this potentially new disease area, the current funding gaps, and what catalytic interventions in particular could be a good fit for Unitaid’s mandate.

CD member, Ms. Violeta Ross, made a passionate intervention about the devasting effects of this disease among disadvantaged and indigenous communities in remote, rural areas in Latin-America. She made the link between Chagas and Unitaid’s current involvement in Universal Health Coverage, Primary Health Care, Anti-Microbial Resistance and SDGs, and confirmed the delegation’s support to explore opportunities in Chagas, preferably as part of a package of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The delegation however stressed the requirement for Unitaid to find additional resources in order to fund interventions in new disease areas, whilst maintaining the primary focus on the three core diseases of its mandate: HIV, TB and malaria.

Following discussion of these and other concerns, the Board did not reach a decision and agreed to hold further consultations over the next few weeks with Board members.

New leadership

The Unitaid Executive Board elected new leadership, reflected on its midterm strategy review and discussed ways to increase impact until the end of its strategy in 2021 and beyond.

From left: CD Board Member Kenly Sikwese, incoming Board Chair Marisol Touraine, Executive Director Lelio Marmaro, CD member Violeta Ross, outgoing Chair Marta Maurás and Vice-Chair Sarah Boulton

The new Chair Ms. Marisol Touraine, former French Minister of Social Affairs, Health and Women’s Rights will lead Unitaid’s Board over the coming years. The Board also welcomed Ambassador Maria Louisa Escorel De Moraes from Brazil as its new Vice-Chair.

Marisol Touraine brings a wealth of experience in public service and governance to our Executive Board,” said Communities Board member, Kenly Sikwese. “We greatly look forward to working with her, knowing that she recognises the meaningful involvement of Communities as a crucial component for the success of Unitaid’s mission.”

The Board thanked the outgoing Board Chair Ambassador Marta Maurás Pérez and Vice-Chair Ms. Sarah Boulton for their strategic guidance over the past years and elected its new leadership.

The next Board meeting will take place in Geneva on 20-21 November 2019.

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The Communities Delegation to the Unitaid Board represents people living with and affected by HIV, TB and Malaria and those co-infected with HIV and HCV. The Communities Delegation has the goal of representing the views, voices, needs and interests of Communities living with the Diseases at Unitaid Board and Committee level. It aims to be transparent, accountable and to prepare communities to engage in Unitaid’s work areas that directly affect those living with the diseases at grassroots and country level, especially in the global south. The Communities Delegation to the Unitaid Board is hosted by the Cape Town office of the Global Network for and by People Living with HIV (GNP+). For more information, please contact Wim Vandevelde, Liaison Officer, Communities Delegation, wvandevelde@gnpplus.net

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