Appointment of Winnie Byanyima as UNAIDS’ Executive Director Spurs Hope Among Human Rights Defenders

United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Must Now Double Down on its Commitment to Reducing HIV Incidence in Gay Men and Other Key Populations


MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights welcomes the appointment of Ugandan human rights advocate Winnie Byanyima as the new Executive Director of UNAIDS.

Byanyima recently served as the Executive Director of Oxfam International and brings an impressive history of championing the human rights of marginalized communities and women. Byanyima has demonstrated an admirable commitment to working on both the regional and global levels to advocate for populations whose voices often go unheard. Based on her experience, we trust that Ms. Byanyima will fully endorse human rights as an integral aspect of the global HIV response.

Following the recent leadership crisis under Michael Sidibe, we hope that Byanyima’s appointment is a signal of change, and that UNAIDS will begin to regain international trust and confidence after their handling of sexual harassment among their ranks.

We hope that Winnie Byanyima’s feminist perspective leads her to be a champion of human rights and decriminalization for all communities. This must include unflinching support for the full decriminalization of HIV transmission, exposure, and non-disclosure; same-sex sexuality and behavior; gender identity and expression; drug use and possession; and all aspects of sex work, including a rejection of abolitionist views on sex work. We will look to UNAIDS to champion the fight against gender inequity in all its forms and across the gender spectrum as part of its work to end AIDS.

“The world needs an even stronger UNAIDS to provide steady leadership in the global HIV response,” said MPact’s Executive Director, Dr. George Ayala. “Ms. Byanyima must move quickly to rally governments and global donors in fast-tracking a rights-based and evidence-informed HIV response. We are looking to UNAIDS to help finally close the HIV treatment gap by addressing barriers to service access like the cost of diagnostics and medicines. UNAIDS must also keep an unwavering focus on eliminating stigma, discrimination, violence, and criminalization, which continue to seriously undermine the global HIV response for gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, sex workers, and transgender people.”

Despite greater HIV treatment coverage, 40% of people living with HIV remain without access to antiretroviral medications. In addition, HIV incidence is not declining at a pace necessary to achieve global targets set by UNAIDS. Key populations make up nearly 50% of all new HIV infection worldwide. Comprehensive HIV prevention, including the expansion of pre-exposure prophylaxis, must remain a top priority.

The world must embrace the central role community- and key population-led organizations and networks play as social enablers in the HIV response. This will require UNAIDS’s new Executive Director to balance donor demands with the expressed needs of people living with and disproportionately affected by HIV.

MPact enthusiastically stands ready to support Ms. Byanyima in her new role and in the monumental work that lies ahead.

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 leading innovative solutions to the challenges faced by gay and bisexual men around the world.