The Alliance at 20

In February 2014, 20 years after the organisation was founded, representatives of the Alliance’s Linking Organisations from across the world came together for a three-day anniversary Convention.

At this unique occasion, which combined our annual meeting of Linking Organisations with our regular donor meeting, 80 delegates came together to reflect on the global HIV epidemic to date and the action still needed to accelerate efforts to end AIDS once and for all.   

Over the week, we heard from a range of speakers who spoke passionately about the Alliance and the future challenges of the AIDS response. Panel discussions on the Post-2015 debate and HIV integration, and workshops on human rights and the Alliance accreditation system were just some of the highlights.  Here are just a few edited moments.

We were honoured to have Senegal’s Minister for Health, Professor Awa Marie Coll-Seck, as the opening plenary speaker. Madame Coll-Seck spoke eloquently about Senegal’s early and effective response to the HIV epidemic. She commented on the vital role of civil society, including the Alliance’s own Linking Organisation, ANCS, and the need to tackle the issue of rising homophobia in Africa in a progressive way.  

Alvaro Bermejo, Executive Director of the Alliance, talked about how the convention marks an important point in our journey to tackle the HIV epidemic which has been with us for thirty years now, and highlighted his concerns about the rapid withdrawal of development financing from middle-income countries (where two-thirds of people living with HIV now live). He asked: “How do we have an intelligent debate, how do we develop the right kind of exit strategy?”

Dr Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer of the GAVI Alliance, and Jeff O’Malley, Director of Policy and Strategy at UNICEF spoke about the early days of the Alliance. Dr Berkeley was at the Rockefeller Foundation when it decided to set up the Alliance to “remove donor bureaucracy” and “create an army of the community”.  

Jeff O’Malley explained the early vision of the Alliance: “We wanted to get money for a full spectrum of HIV responses. We saw activism, home care and prevention all fitting together. This was a fairly radical intervention at that time.” He also talked about the AIDS response “coming full circle” in the fact that at the beginning community organisations did not have access to the technical support and resources they needed, and that in many ways we are back to that. He said “AIDS is not over. The people we can count on are the people most affected.”

Baba Goumbala, the Alliance’s Regional Representative for West and North Africa, spoke with great pride about his 19 years as part of the Alliance: “The Alliance is me, I am this organisation.  The Alliance is my life.”

Oum Sopheap, Executive Director of KHANA in Cambodia, highlighted the Alliance’s commitment to involving people living with HIV in service delivery, and Andriy Klepikov, Executive Director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, spoke about the Alliance’s ‘viagra effect’. He described the side effects of the Alliance in Ukraine, including the impact on the partners and families of the beneficiaries directly supported (he estimates this to be 1 million people – not a small achievement in a European country) and the development of a vibrant civil society – specifically the growth of the network of people living with HIV which is now a joint Global Fund Principal Recipient.

George Ayala, Executive Director of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, recognised the role of the Alliance in the establishment of the Forum and commended a number of key individuals within the Alliance who remain strong supporters. However, he appealed for us to take a critical view of the work that we do, and return to some of the basic questions that we were trying to address in the early days of the Alliance. He mentioned a number of points but specifically the issue of ensuring resources are going to communities, and to ask ourselves, “if not, why not”.

Finally, delegates were enthralled listening to Professor Peter Piot, Director and Professor of Global Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and founding Executive Director of UNAIDS, outline the 10 myths of the AIDS response.  

In closing, he said “I am afraid the Alliance will remain necessary for many years to come. Keep up the great work and never give up.”