Much progress to report: UNGASS 2008

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Feature story

Much progress to report: UNGASS 2008

12 March 2008

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It was already a cold night, in Dushanbe Tajikistan and it was made worse that the heating to building was cut off. The indoor temperature had dropped to -40 decrees Celsius. It was however 31 January 2008 the deadline for countries to send their responses for the UNGASS reporting system. Undeterred by the freezing temperatures, the government staff tasked on this project continued to work in order to meet the deadline.   

Every two years, in compliance with the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS signed by UN member states in June 2001, countries report to UNAIDS on their progress made in the response to the AIDS epidemic. This year, countries and individuals showed extraordinary personal commitment to this reporting process.

Extraordinary lengths to submit the reports on time

While post-election civil unrest beset Kenya, civil society and staff of government ministries risked injury by continuing to travel to their offices during street rioting in order to complete their report.

That so many countries have submitted their progress reports, and in some cases gone to such exceptional lengths to do so, is a testament to how seriously the member states are taking their responsibility of reporting progress towards the Declaration of Commitment unanimously adopted in the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV and AIDS.

Submission rates higher

As of 7 March 2008, 147 out of 192 countries had submitted their reports; this is a large increase from the 2006 number of 115 countries out of a 189.

Submission rates stand significantly at 100% of the Caribbean, 95% of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 95% of Latin America and 94% of sub-Saharan Africa.

However, by the same date only 50% of North America, 53% of Western and Central Europe and 50% of North Africa and Middle East had submitted their reports. East Asia reporting stands at 60% and Oceania 57%.

The high submission rate in several regions is indicative of how many countries are prepared to be publicly accountable. The UNAIDS secretariat publishes these reports on the UNAIDS web site exactly as submitted by the country, without editing or other alteration. Far from seeing the reporting process as a bureaucratic exercise, instead it is being seen as an opportunity to make a public statement about the country’s commitment and to be compared side by side with other countries.

 “The approach to this year’s reporting process was unprecedented in terms of its coordination and participation and the results speak for themselves,” said UNAIDS Chief of Monitoring and Evaluation Division, Dr Deborah Rugg.

“Governments, civil society, UNAIDS cosponsors and the Secretariat all pulled together in a concerted way to ensure that the country reports were more comprehensive than ever. It is a credit to the commitment of all involved and an expression of the exceptional response that is required by this epidemic.”

Civil society participation

The participation of civil society is an essential part of the reporting process and they have a particularly important role to play in the compilation of the National Composite Policy Index (NCPI) indicators. 

UNAIDS has engaged a consortium of civil society organizations led by the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations and the International Women's Health Coalition (ICASO and IWHC) to provide support to civil society organizations in national reporting. This support has been made available at the regional level, through a number of networks working with in partnnership with ICASO and IWHC.

In many countries civil society has been engaged in the national reporting process, providing inputs at different levels including providing complimentary or qualitative data to supplement national reports, engaging in national reporting workshops and producing shadow reports.  A shadow report may be submitted by civil society where civil society was not adequately included in the national reporting process or where governments do not submit a country progress report.

There has been a significant drop in number of shadow reports submitted to UNAIDS, reflecting the substantial efforts in many countries to increase the engagement of civil society in national reporting processes. These reports sometimes reflect the perspectives of marginalized constituencies who, for a variety of reasons, can find it difficult to gain access to more formal reporting processes.

The shadow reports produced by civil society organizations are available on the ICASO web site.

Investment yields results

UNAIDS Secretariat also increased investment into the training process by organizing regional workshops for government monitoring and evaluation officers and providing 25 expert consultants to travel to countries to assist them in their reporting process.

Reconciled data

This year’s process was also very successful in terms of data reconciliation. Where there were discrepancies in country data reported for indicators as part of the UNGASS process and as part of reporting to other UN agencies, (for example mother-to-child transmission numbers or treatment numbers), joint UN teams worked closely together in countries to reconcile these numbers by analysis and by examination of the methodologies used, and agreeing on the most valid indicator value.

This was the first time where divergences in the data where identified at the global level and then reconciled at the country level in a collaborative way. The initiative was led by the UNAIDS Secretariat who convened a forum with five cosponsors and partners, including WHO, UNICEF, PEPFAR, MEASURE/DHS, and the Global Fund.

Countries reported that the process was a catalyst promoting very healthy dialogue between agencies and reinforced the country ownership principle.

Global Response Database (GRD)

UNGASS indicator data are submitted by each country using a software tool called the Country Response Information System (CRIS). UNAIDS has now developed a large global database called the Global Response Database (GRD). The GRD allows better analysis of the global response, country by country and region by region, and for the first time allows multi-year trend for some of the UNGASS indicators and disaggregation by gender and age.

In addition to allowing data to be imported from other sources, the GRD will enable the future sharing of UNGASS data with UNAIDS Cosponsors such as UNICEF and WHO and also the UNAIDS Regional Support Teams.

Use of the UNGASS data

The UNGASS indicators will be used to monitor the progress towards achieving Universal Access to prevention, treatment and care in 2010 and eventually in reaching the Millennium Development Goal of arresting and halting the spread of HIV by 2015.

The UNGASS data will form the basis of the UN Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly in June as well as the 2008 Report on the global AIDS epidemic to be launched at the Mexico City International AIDS Conference 3-8 August 2008.

As many improvements have been seen in this year’s process in terms of the quality of data, civil society participation, number of reports and the data analysis capacities we can look forward to getting a clearer picture of the world’s response to the epidemic.

An improved reporting process also means countries themselves can better “know their epidemic” enabling them to target their strategic response accordingly.