#52 The G|O Briefing, April 27, 2021

Exclusive: High Anxiety at UNAIDS after UK massively slashes funding.

This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter

The Geneva Observer has learned that the UK’s contribution to UNAIDS might be slashed from £15m to £2.5m. A knowledgeable UNAIDS insider described it to The Geneva Observer as “devastating.” “We are in a crisis mode” another source tells The G|O, without commenting on the figures. A meeting of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) taking place tomorrow will begin with a financial presentation “in view of the UK cuts” to assess the impact of such a massive drop in funding. UNAIDS’ staff has been informed of the worsening of the situation in vague terms over the last few days, but neither the depth of the cuts nor other details have been shared and made official at this point. In internal communications, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima has indicated that the cuts will lead to staff reductions. Further information was supposed to be shared with staff by the end of today.

One informed Geneva source outside of the organization told The G|O that, about a month ago, the UK government had indicated that it had reversed its plan and decided not to slash its funding to UNAIDS. The slated reduction in the British government funding runs from March 2021 to March 2022.

The cuts are part of a massive reduction in foreign aid by the British government, confirmed on April 21 before Parliament by UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. The UK was the 4th largest donor to UNAIDS in 2019.

So far, the British government has provided no breakdown of its cuts, either by country or organization. During the parliamentary debate a Labour MP sought assurances that UNAIDS would be spared:

"The proposed cut to global health spending is 40%; if passed on to HIV funding, that is 800,000 lives. Can the Minister confirm that there will be no cuts to the Robert Carr Fund, the Global Fund, UNAIDS or HIV research—including on a vaccine, which we are now very close to—and that we will renew and fully meet, without delay, all those pledges that we have made to save those lives?"

Through one of its member, the Government refused to provide a detailed answer: “Unfortunately (...) I am not able to give assurances on individual programmes at this stage.”

The confirmation of the extent of the UK global foreign aid cuts was swiftly condemned by the Norwegian Refugee Council through its UK director Martin Hartberg.  

This “announcement confirms that titanic aid cuts will hit the world’s most vulnerable communities with deadly force and comes at the worst possible time when we are facing record levels of global humanitarian needs.
The UK’s proud status as a global aid superpower is dealt another massive blow just as it prepares for the upcoming G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ meeting. We call on the Government to rethink this calamitous decision, and not slam the door shut the world’s poorest people.”

It is unclear if the contingency plans The Geneva Observer recently reported were drawn in response to the first British government statements about the UK’s government intentions.

UNAIDS maintained at the time that no reduction staff were planned.

Contacted today by The Geneva Observer, a spokesperson for UNAIDS said she was not aware of any pending cuts by a major contributor nation.

-Jamil Chade, with additional reporting from John Zarocostas and Philippe Mottaz

Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz - Jamil Chade - John Zarocostas

Edited by: Paige Holt