Breaking the silence

By Shaun Mellors

Shaun Mellors is the Alliance's Associate Director for Africa.
This is an extract from the speech that he’ll be delivering at LIVING 2016 ahead of the International Aids Conference in Durban.

ShaunOur community of people living with AIDS has grown too silent, and silence is death. The movement is facing a crisis that threatens its very survival. We are too complacent in our engagement; we are fragmented and uncoordinated; we lack global leadership and vision. We are no longer accountable.

Sixteen years ago the world came to Durban to “break the silence” on HIV/AIDS – it was a monumental event that fundamentally changed the response to HIV. We made huge strides over the subsequent decade – the advances we made as a community were driven by a sense of urgency filled with passion, anger and hope.  Our involvement became formalised through the GIPA principle. This stated clearly that we were not part of the problem but part of the solution. We demanded our rights and demanded to be listened to. In 1994, 42 heads of state signed the declaration and committed for the first time to the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

Today peoples’ lives are still at risk but where have our collective passion, power and anger gone? The global discourse and architecture of recent years has been dividing us as a community and we’re allowing that to happen. We’re divided by where we live, by our sexual orientation or gender identity, by the income status of our country and our burden of disease. Where is our voice? Where is our solidarity?

Today peoples’ lives are still at risk but where have our collective passion, power and anger gone?

Our global networks of people living with HIV are struggling to be relevant and to be resourced. Regional and national networks are at best fighting for resources and at worst are irrelevant or collapsing /disintegrating.

In many contexts where HIV epidemics are made up of key populations such as men who have sex with men and sex workers these groups are not only strapped for funds but also criminalised and stigmatised. We’re told that governments need to step up with funding but we know that’s not going to happen.

Last month the UN High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS set ambitious targets and used grandiose slogans like “leave no one behind”. There was plenty of political rhetoric about “fast-tracking” to end AIDS by 2030. But the reality is that the global commitment to HIV is shrinking – there are dwindling resources, political support is dropping off and there’s growing fragmentation within the community. Last week UNAIDS released a report that acknowledged things aren’t going to plan. We know that, despite a steep (35%) decline in new HIV infections between 2000 and 2008, the number of new HIV infections remained consistently above two million a year since 2010. This is nearly double the level we need to achieve if we are to control of the HIV epidemic by 2030 as envisioned by UNAIDS’ fast track targets.

We need to rekindle our energy and passion and decide how we as people living with HIV are going to respond to these challenges. We have to act now if we are to make an impact. We have two inspiring goals to attain: to achieve 30x20 – 30 million of us living with HIV on ARVs by 2020 – and to end AIDS by 2030. I propose four ways we can become the change that’s needed:

We have to act now if we are to make an impact

2016 AIDSWe need to organise a coalition with a common goal and ambitious vision. The leadership of the various networks – particularly GNP+, ICW and ITPC – must come together in the next six months to strategise and create a common platform for action, solidarity and progress. We will support you and hold you to account for this.

We need to demand accountability from those who speak on our behalf and an institutional mechanism to make this happen. But we also need to support our representatives in the global health governance structures to continue their efforts.

We need a collective strategy to set out our own contribution as people living with HIV to helping make the ambitious global targets a reality. We have valuable knowledge and experience to help advocate for more and better access to treatment.

We need to show solidarity with those perceived as different to us and challenge the pitching of population groups against each other. We must confront and speak out against prejudice and discrimination wherever it appears.

It’s my sincere hope that AIDS 2016 will be remembered as the moment when our movement of people living with HIV seized the opportunity to come together as a powerful force to move the world closer to the goal of ending AIDS.


Shaun Mellors will be a speaker at LIVING 2016, 16-17 July in Durban.
It is the 3rd Positive Leadership Summit which takes place every four years prior to the International AIDS Conference. It is organised by GNP+ and the Alliance is a partner.
More information here: