Photograph — Institute for new Economic Thinking

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres, has appointed Winifred Karagwa Byanyima of Uganda as the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The appointment procedure was an open and wide-range search process that involved a search committee led by co-sponsoring organizations. The process also included interviews and consultations with governments and other concerned parties through the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board.

Ms Byanyima – also known as ‘Winnie’ – will replace Deputy Director, Gunilla Carlsson, who was appointed to the position on an interim basis following the resignation of Michel Sidibé in May. The former Director, Sidibe was accused of mismanagement and creating a patriarchal culture, as well as tolerating harassment and abuse of authority. Although he is now the health minister in his home country, Mali.

In a statement published by the UNAIDS, Winnie said, “I am honoured to be joining UNAIDS as the Executive Director at such a critical time in (the) response to HIV.”

She added that the end of AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 is “a goal that is within the world’s reach, but I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead. Working with all its partners, UNAIDS must continue to speak up for the people left behind and champion human rights as the only way to end the epidemic.”

Ms Byanyima has more than 30 years of experience in political leadership, diplomacy and humanitarian engagement. She began her career as a champion of marginalized communities and women during her time as a member of parliament in the National Assembly of Uganda. 

In 2004, she worked on the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa as the Director of Women and Development at the African Union (AU) Commission. This international human rights instrument became an important tool for reducing the effect of HIV on the lives of women in Africa. 

She has been the Executive Director of Oxfam International since 2013. Before joining Oxfam, Ms Byanyima served for seven years as Director of Gender and Development at the UN Development Programme (UNDP). She is also the founder of the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), a leading NGO in Uganda.

Winnie holds an advanced degree in mechanical engineering (in energy conservation and the environment) from the Cranfield Institute of Technology and an undergraduate degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Manchester.

More so, she was the only woman shortlisted for the position and was chosen over four other candidates: Chris Beyrer, Salim Abdool Karim, Bernard Haufiku, and Sani Aliyu. As the only non-physician among the contenders, there were questions from members of the global health community about her fitness for a job that some argue requires a leader with strong technical expertise.

Ms Byanyima speaks English, Kiswahili and some French.

By Tobiloba Ishola.

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