A worthwhile, irreplaceable experience of a lifetime

By September 1, 2021 September 3rd, 2021 Advocacy, Newsroom, Regional

Contributor :
Jeff Acaba
member of the Asia Pacific NGO Delegation
to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board 2015-2017

UNAIDS was established in 1994 and is guided by a Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) with representatives of 22 governments from all geographic regions, the UNAIDS Cosponsors, and five representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including associations of people living with HIV (PLHIV).

UNAIDS was the first United Nations programme to have formal civil society representation on its governing body. The position of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) is critical for the effective inclusion of community voices in the key global policy forum for AIDS.The NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS Program Coordinating Board (PCB) has three roles:

  • Participating objectively and independently in the workings and decision-making of the PCB
  • Undertaking various forms of proactive and informed advocacy within the structures and processes of the PCB;
  • Enhancing the transparency and accountability of relevant PCB decision-making and policy-setting, helping to meet requirements for upwards accountability (towards the PCB and other delegations) and downwards accountability (towards the people, communities and constituencies affected by HIV)

We interviewed former PCB NGO delegates from Asia and the Pacific about their experiences during their tenure. 

What do you miss most about being on the UNAIDS PCB?

I have so many good memories as a member of the NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) representing Asia and the Pacific. It has been a humbling and fulfilling experience to be representing NGOs and key population-led organisations in Asia and the Pacific, at such a high-level global platform. There are many aspects of holding this position, most of which  are very detailed and specific, that make me miss this kind of work.

One thing in particular that I miss is writing interventions. An intervention is a statement being drafted and delivered by a member of the NGO Delegation relating to a particular agenda. Prior to the actual PCB, the NGO Delegation will  usually have a two-day pre-meeting, during which NGO Delegation members will discuss and assign which agenda items will be taken by a particular NGO member, who will take the lead in advocating among PCB members, and the development and delivery of an intervention. While many people will think that interventions are mere statements, these interventions are the culmination of months-long coordination, lobbying, and consultation with our constituencies – in my case, civil society and key population-led organisations in our region.

For me, writing an intervention is a consolidation of all the work around a particular agenda – from the preparations, which include reading the agenda document, advocacy with PCB Member States and PCB UN Cosponsors including the UNAIDS Secretariat, and a “final stand” of the NGO Delegation’s position. These interventions are written during the PCB week, so amid the marathon of meetings, discussions, side conversations, and the PCB meeting itself, we still have to write our own interventions. I usually write them from 2am until the start of the our briefing meeting for the day, which is around 7am, and I have to complete it before the agenda is tabled,  because I will still have to circulate this among my fellow NGO Delegation members for sign-offs,  as this is an NGO Delegation statement at the end of the day.

I like how some of these interventions that we draft and deliver, weave the personal and the political, which has been a unique approach and legacy of the NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS PCB. These interventions are also recorded, and will forever be an official part of the PCB reports.

What made you decide to apply for this position and why was your organisation willing to support this role?

My main motivation to apply for this role was the lack of representation of young key populations that have never been represented at the PCB. I would also like to see that the needs of the group I belong to are included in UNAIDS’ contribution to the global AIDS response, particularly for the Asia and the Pacific region, and that our priorities are prioritized, too.

I had initial doubts prior to applying for the position, given the  scope and responsibility that I had to commit to, but I was grateful that Youth LEAD – the organisation that I represented during my term as part of the NGO Delegation, supported my role and position. I think that the reason they supported my role was because of the opportunity to not only elevate young key populations’ issues at the UNAIDS PCB, but also raise the profile of the organisation as a leading young key population-led network in our region as well. Eventually, my role within the NGO Delegation, as well as the networks that I established at the PCB, contributed to my organisation’s success in the long run.

What were some of the achievements for you, during the time you were part of the UNAIDS PCB NGO delegation?

I can name three achievements that I am really proud of. The first, was leading the development of the NGO Report during my first year with the NGO Delegation. The NGO Report is one of the key responsibilities of the NGO Delegation. as this is the main opportunity for the Delegation to highlight a particular issue and push for Decision Points that the Board can take action on. Taking that responsibility as a rookie delegate, was both scary and exciting. The topic, which was on sexual and reproductive health and rights of key populations in the context of right to development, was a complicated intersectional focus area. We may not have been as successful in pushing for concrete Decision Points, but being able to lead the coordination and development of that report, was definitely an achievement for me.

The second, was the successful adoption of a Decision Point for the PCB to regularly monitor the progress in the provision of pediatric prevention, treatment, care and support and eliminating stigma and discrimination against children, adolescents and young people living with HIV during the 39th PCB in 2016. The lobbying I undertook, in close coordination with HIV NGOs working on pediatric care as well as UN Cosponsors, resulted  in that successful adoption.

The third, and the highlight achievement for me, was the establishment of the “Global Partnership to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination”, or simply, the “Global Partnership”. I introduced the idea during my final PCB meeting, and mobilised support among global key population-led networks and UN Cosponsors, and the idea was endorsed by the UNAIDS Secretariat at the PCB. It’s currently part of the UNAIDS Strategy that aims to accelerate efforts in achieving the “Third Zero”, which is on zero stigma and discrimination, and operates  side-by-side with the Global Prevention Coalition and the 95-95-95 Treatment Targets.

What were some of the challenges of the UNAIDS PCB NGO delegation?

Being part of the NGO Delegation is not easy. I had to balance my work as part of my organization, and as part of the NGO Delegation. Being based in the Asia-Pacific, calls would sometimes take place late at night, so I had to adjust my working hours. The Communication and Coordination Facility of the NGO Delegation was supportive of me and helped me make sure that I did  not forget my tasks, as part of the Delegation.

Working with PCB Member States can also be quite challenging, especially when a Member State is conservative. There were also instances where I had to work with Member States that are outside of my region, which was even more difficult because of the difference in regional experience. What I learned, is that it takes more than evidence, at least at the PCB level, to influence and mobilise support. It takes a bit of politics, lots of social connection and a good amount of diplomacy, and most importantly, speaking my truth – of my experience as part of key populations, and as a representative of my Asia-Pacific constituency. It’s a good mix of all those things that can make a successful NGO Delegate.

If someone were considering applying for this position, what are your recommendations and tips for the individuals and organisations looking to take this role?

As an NGO Delegate, one must keep in mind that they are there representing a constituency, not their personal interest. An NGO Delegate is the eyes and lips of the constituency that they are representing, so if one is interested to join, make sure that they always have that communication and connection with their constituency. Ensure that those connections are open and working, so that when critical decision points are to be made, the delegate can immediately consult and gather the opinions of their constituency, before critical decision points are made.

One’s organizational support is very important prior to becoming part of the NGO Delegation. This is crucial, because there will be instances when delegates must juggle their time to make things work for both their organisational affiliation and as part of the NGO Delegation.

The NGO Delegation work can be overwhelming, but one must understand that while this is high-level, it’s only a part of a huge ecosystem of the HIV response. A lot of work needs to take place outside of the PCB, for the work within the PCB to becomes effective, and this is where one’s connections with the regional and country level stakeholders become important.

Your role and legacy as an NGO Delegate will forever be with you, even after your term, and you will be remembered as part of the Delegation and the PCB, based on what you brought to the table, and your overall performance, not to mention those memorable interventions that you have written and/or delivered. Make the best out of it – it’s a worthwhile, irreplaceable experience of a lifetime.

About the contributor:

Jeff Acaba is a gay Filipino migrant living with HIV and currently works as the Senior Programme Officer at APCASO. He has 15 years of experience in health governance and strategic development, policy advocacy and accountability, programme management and coordination, training and capacity-building, and community-led research. He served his term as NGO Asia and the Pacific delegate of the NGO Delegation to UNAIDS PCB from 2015-2017.

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