David Chipanta is the Senior Adviser of UNAIDS and also an active member of UN Plus. David will periodically contribute to the UN Plus newsletter and provide his views on living with HIV in- and outside of the UN system. For the first issue of the newsletter and as a way to introduce him, we are re-posting his interview from the UNAIDS website.
David Chipanta started his UNAIDS career in Liberia as the UNAIDS Country Director, where he helped to strengthen the national AIDS commission and national strategy framework. He is particularly proud of putting gender and ending sexual violence front and centre in the AIDS response in the country and giving the national network of people living with HIV more of a voice.
“What I found exciting was tackling the many barriers that surround access to HIV treatment, prevention, care and support,” he said. By barriers, he means the stigma, discrimination, poverty and inequalities that constrain people from accessing HIV services.
An economist by training, Mr Chipanta remarked, “We cannot forget the importance of all the things that relate to people’s lives—do they feel secure, do they have food, do they have a house, a family, a job?” Giving the example of Zambia, he described some people only taking their HIV medicine during the rainy season because food is more readily available then.
“It hit me that the peripheral stuff is very important, because without it HIV services will have a limited impact,” Mr Chipanta said. His current job as the UNAIDS Social Protection Senior Adviser in Geneva, Switzerland, focuses on just that—connecting people affected by HIV to social safety nets and improving livelihoods, as well as reducing poverty and improving education.
“UNAIDS has created more awareness about social protection services and the hurdles that people living with HIV face,” he said. For example, he explained that in Liberia and Sierra Leone, sex workers said they weren’t accessing social protection services because the administrators often treated them badly; in response, his office set up sensitivity training.
Another issue close to his heart is girls’ education. Keeping girls in school has been shown to lower HIV prevalence and is an important factor in increasing access to HIV treatment. “In low-income settings, we shone the light on the importance of cash transfers to keep girls in school,” Mr Chipanta said. His next challenge is advocating for more synergies with programmes for mentoring, empowerment and social support.
“As a person living with HIV, I never thought I would accomplish so much,” he said. In 1991, when he found out his HIV status in his native Zambia, he assumed that his life was over. “I thought, before I die, let me help others,” he added.
“I was personally motivated to work in the HIV field,” he said. “But I felt like I wanted to become an expert in my own right.”