Press release

UNAIDS’ key takeaways from the 78th United Nations General Assembly

GENEVA, 29 September 2023—The topic of the global AIDS response—including its successes and invaluable lessons for handling pandemics—permeated many discussions during last week’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. From three High-Level meetings on health, to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit to remarks given to the General Assembly and at High-Level Side events, the lessons from 40 years of responding to HIV—including the principle of leaving no one behind—were repeatedly referenced in the context of a future of health and equality for all.

In his remarks to the General Assembly, United States President Joe Biden referenced success against AIDS as a platinum example of what global solidarity and shared responsibility can achieve. “HIV/AIDS infections and deaths plummeted in no small part because of PEPFAR’s work in more than 55 countries, saving more than 25 million lives,” said President Biden. “It’s a profound testament to what we can achieve when we act together when we take on tough challenges and an admonition for us to urgently accelerate our progress so that no one is left behind.”

At the opening of the SDG Summit, Irish prime minister, Leo Eric Varadkar noted that half-way to the 2030 targets we are not where we would wish to be with only 15% of the SDGs on target. He added that despite this there is progress. “More than 800 million people have been connected to electricity since 2015, 146 countries have met or are on track to achieving the under-five mortality target, and effective HIV treatment has halved global AIDS-related deaths since 2010,” said Mr Varadkar. “This progress shows that change is possible, that backsliding is not inevitable, and that poverty, pollution and gender inequality are not pre-ordained. They are trends that can be reversed, problems that can be solved and tragedies that can be averted.”

While celebrating the collective success against AIDS, UNAIDS urged leaders to keep HIV high on political agendas for three reasons. “Firstly,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, “The job is not yet done—43 years into the pandemic, there are still more than 9 million people waiting for life-saving treatment, more than 1.3 million new HIV infections every year and AIDS took a life every minute in 2022. Secondly: We know how to end AIDS and, we have the path and the power to do it. And thirdly: The AIDS response is a smart investment yielding other health, social and economic impacts.”  

A number of ministers and heads of state spoke about the economic challenges they face as the result of multiple and concurrent crises, and the need for cooperation and solidarity to overcome these crises while continuing to make critical investments in development and health. Many political leaders noted that while the political will is there, there are not enough domestic resources to invest in health, education and social protection.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded the international community that there is an urgent need to rethink—and reconfigure--the international financial architecture in order to achieve the SDGs. The same is true for UNAIDS's mission to end AIDS as a public health threat and ensure those gains are sustained well beyond 2030. Ending AIDS requires new and sustained resources, and a different political discourse on funding for development. UNAIDS highlighted the importance for maintaining bilateral funding for PEPFAR and multilateral funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

UNAIDS stressed that as we develop a global architecture for pandemics prevention, preparedness and response, we need to draw from over 40 years of responding to AIDS, because the AIDS response is pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

The importance of community-led responses as essential to reaching marginalized groups and people most affected by pandemics was emphasized. UNAIDS highlighted that the Pandemic Accord must acknowledge the central role of community-led responses and commit member states to include communities and civil society in decision-making, planning, preparation, implementation and monitoring. 

The call to end inequalities was a central theme to UNAIDS’ messaging at UNGA. UNAIDS highlighted the need for equitable, affordable access to life saving medical products and how inequality drives, and prolongs, pandemics. UNAIDS advocated metrics, targets and accountability systems for focusing the response and additionally for advancing human rights to improve public health and warned that human rights violations undermine trust and drive people away from health services.

Finally, UNAIDS called for a multisectoral/whole of society approach to effectively prevent, prepare for and respond to pandemics because pandemics are not merely health crises—they also present political, social and economic challenges which require transformative action by all.

The Executive Director of UNODC, Ms Ghada Waly, on behalf of UNAIDS’ cosponsoring organizations acknowledged that, “The multi-sectoral partnership on HIV/AIDS is as important as ever, bringing together the expertise, assets and comparative advantages of 11 Cosponsors in an exemplary partnership for the development approach of the SDGs.”


The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.


Sophie Barton-Knott
tel. +41 79 514 6896

Press centre

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