Using Voluntary National Reviews to Keep HIV on the Global Health and Development Agenda

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A new report released today by MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health & Rights in collaboration with the Free Space Process collaborative* urges States to more robustly integrate HIV and the needs of key populations into reporting via the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on Sustainable Development Goal implementation.

Titled “Using Voluntary National Reviews to Keep HIV on the Global Health and Development Agenda,” the report found that fewer countries mentioned HIV in 2018 VNR reports compared to 2017:  of the 46 VNR reports submitted in 2018, only 28 reports included any mention of HIV with regard to achieving the 2030 Agenda, and only 8 reports mentioned key populations—despite the fact that all countries committed to using agreed upon indicator 3.3.1 on incidence of HIV by sex, age, and key population.

According to UNAIDS, key populations comprised 47% of new infections globally in 2017 and over 80% of new infections outside sub-Saharan Africa. The risk of acquiring HIV is 13 times higher for female sex workers, 27 times higher among gay men and other men who have sex with men, 23 times higher among people who inject drugs, and 12 times higher among transgender people.

“The move of HIV from a standalone Goal in the Millennium Development Goals to one Target within the broader Sustainable Development Goal on Health signaled that the landscape of HIV and development is changing. As key population advocates, we hoped this reconfiguration would enable more robust assessment of the multiple ways that the SDGs can reinforce the human rights and health needs of people living with HIV. However, this report indicates that governments are instead shirking their responsibilities and commitments to HIV, and still leaving our communities behind.” – Dr. George Ayala, MPact Executive Director

Some countries showed strong commitment to highlight HIV in the VNR, and a few went beyond the minimum requirement of reporting on the agreed upon indicator 3.3.1. These countries presented data on prevalence, HIV-related deaths, and/or expressed concern about stigma and discrimination affecting people living with HIV. Some States discussed the situation of vulnerable groups beyond key populations, including women and girls, indigenous people, or migrants. It is commendable that 34 of 46 States reported on all 17 SDGs, and that of those 28 VNR reports including HIV, six mentioned HIV under Goals 1, 5, 10 in addition to Goal 3, indicating that some governments are considering the interlinkages between HIV and other SDGs.

2018 also saw increased engagement of civil society in the form of parallel reports to complement the official VNR reports. However, among the 35 civil society reports identified, only eight mentioned HIV, and four of those only briefly. Based on interviews with activists that participated in the civil society reporting process in Brazil, Ireland, and Senegal, this report finds that civil society has been using parallel reports as a powerful tool to highlight gaps in implementation and engage in national level advocacy.

“Often national consultation processes for the VNR coordinated by governments lack transparency or do not seriously consider inputs from civil society, especially from key populations. Across the world, coalitions of civil society organizations have come together to speak truth to country-level implementation of the SDGs, providing missing data and making critical recommendations for achieving the SDGs. This is an important opportunity for civil society to keep HIV on their country’s health and development agendas.”  – Stephen Leonelli, MPact Senior Policy Advisor

In July 2019, the annual High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will take place in New York and will include a presentation of VNRs by 51 Member States, a thematic review of six SDGs, and side events. The HLPF theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” will include review of Goal 10 (Reduced inequalities) and Goal 16 (Peace, justice, and strong institutions), and it is critical that key population advocates and communities share their inputs via Regional Meetings, Expert Group Meetings, and other preparation in the coming months. In September, a Political Declaration will be adopted at the SDG Summit at the UN General Assembly.

The report also highlights:

  • The ways that governments included HIV-related data and topics in 28 VNR reports from 2018.
  • Case studies from five countries showcasing strategies and approaches to integrating HIV into VNR reports and civil society parallel reports.
  • An overview of the preparation meetings for the 2019 HLPF.
  • Recommendations and promising practices for stronger inclusion of HIV in VNR reporting.

In order to end the epidemic, achieve the SDGs, and deliver on “leave no one behind,” Member States must show the political will to proactively and meaningfully engage civil society and communities, especially key population-led organizations, when assessing progress on SDG implementation. HIV must be acknowledged as a cross-cutting development challenge, and all stakeholders need to prioritize collaboration so that HIV-related data and national HIV priorities are included in the 2030 Agenda framework.

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Media contact:
Stephen Leonelli, MPact Senior Policy Advisor

About MPact

MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights (formerly known as MSMGF or The Global Forum on MSM & HIV) was founded in 2006 by a group of activists concerned about the disproportionate HIV disease burden shouldered by men who have sex with men. MPact works at the intersection of sexual health and human rights, and is linked to more than 120 community-based organizations in 62 countries who are fighting for the sexual health and human rights of gay and bisexual men around the world.

About Free Space Process 
The Free Space Process (FSP) partnership brings together 11 international civil society networks, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, Global Action for Trans Equality (GATE), MPact, the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), the Global Network of Sex Workers (NSWP), HIV Young Leaders Fund, International Community of Women Living with HIV, the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO), Frontline AIDS, the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC), and the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), in an effort to proactively coordinate and collaborate on joint advocacy. FSP provides a “free space” for partners to discuss and work on common strategic policy and aims to maximize dynamic, experienced, and well-connected advocacy for greater effect and combined policy impact.

*With the support from PITCH program: The Partnership to Inspire, Transform and connect the HIV response (PITCH) is a five year strategic partnership between Aidsfonds, Frontline AIDS, and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of their “Dialogue and Dissent” development cooperation programme.