The new Global AIDS Strategy 2021-26 – a huge win for excluded children and adolescents

Congratulations Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS, its programme coordinating board, co-sponsors of the joint programme, civil society activists everywhere and, most importantly children and adolescents affected by HIV and AIDS! You have made yourselves heard, and you have been listened to.

The new Global AIDS Strategy 2021-26 is a huge step forward for vulnerable children, adolescents and their caregivers. In particular, the new target – to have 75% of all children living with HIV have suppressed viral loads by 2023 – is to be celebrated. It recognises the chronic gap currently, whereby only 53% of children living with HIV are on treatment, and seeks to address it robustly within just two years. This is complemented by ambitious targets for 2025, in which 95% of people will be tested and on effective treatment for HIV – including children, adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women.

There is no reason why these targets cannot be met. Certainly, we have the technology – not least paediatric drug formulations, point of care early infant diagnosis and index testing. What we need now is investment and political will to get HIV services to those children, adolescents and caregivers who need them most; to put first people facing social and structural exclusion, especially adolescent girls and young women.

And this is why the new Global AIDS Strategy is so remarkable. It articulates what must be done to enable vulnerable people to overcome the social and economic barriers that prevent them from accessing health services. This is no mean feat. The Strategy pinpoints critical steps to achieving equality across multiple Sustainable Development Goals – from gender equality to poverty reduction. These include, scaling up youth leadership, community-led processes, social protection, school health comprehensive sexuality education, mental health support, and nutrition programmes as well as the decriminalisation of key populations.

The Strategy reinforces, once again, how much the HIV sector has to share when it comes to tackling global pandemics, including COVID-19. It is the result of 30 years of lesson-learning. It guides us through the nuts and bolts of delivering a ‘whole-of-system’ approach. And the actions to address the broader social and economic inequalities, and to strengthen health systems will be of benefit in tackling any disease – both now and in the future.

All eyes are now governments and donors to invest in delivering this strategy. The Unified Budget, Results and Accountability Framework accompanying the Global AIDS Strategy will be critical, as will the Political Declaration on HIV, the new Global Fund Strategy, and the PEPFAR reauthorisation. These are all moments to assess the commitment of governments and donors to put first children, adolescents and caregivers who are often left behind.

The Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS is here to support you.