Member Spotlight: Shannon Kellman

The Global AIDS Policy Partnership is made stronger by each of the contributions of our 70+ members. That is why we wanted to highlight the unique stories and invaluable contributions of each of the individuals and organizations that make up our community through our Member Spotlight blog series.

For the first in our 2024 Member Spotlight posts, we are getting to know our three GAPP co-chairs. First up is Shannon Kellman, who is currently the Senior Policy Director of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

What has Friends’ involvement been in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Friends of the Global Fight (Friends) is the lead advocacy organization working in the U.S. on behalf of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s mission. We are focused primarily on ensuring U.S. government support for the Global Fund, both in policy and through financial resources. We also focus on advocacy and awareness building around the three diseases, supporting and working with the U.S. bilateral programs so that they are as successful as possible.

We work very closely with our partners and colleagues at the Global Fund’s secretariat, aligning with them on requests to, and interactions with the U.S. government. Because we are a separate, third entity we are also able to serve as arbiter and advisor.

You are in a unique position to talk about the collaboration between the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund. What makes this partnership so effective? Why is it so important that the U.S. continues to invest in both of PEPFAR and the Global Fund?

PEPFAR and the Global Fund work extraordinarily closely together. They were created in close succession alongside each other and constantly collaborate across all levels and policies. The U.S.’s engagement with the Global Fund is included in the PEPFAR authorization statute.

PEPFAR holds the main seat for the U.S. on the Global Fund Board and works very closely with implementing countries, helping to craft grant requests, among other things.

But they do different things. PEPFAR is the U.S. bilateral program focused exclusively on HIV and there is a lot of benefit from that. But the Global Fund works in more countries (more than 120), on more diseases, and has a little bit more of a holistic view around global health. The Global Fund is also an independent organization, so it’s able to galvanize support not just from the U.S., but from other donors and participants. There is also a match requirement in U.S. law mandating that no more than one third of all Global Fund resources come from the U.S. That’s a really useful tool to make sure that the U.S., while the largest donor to HIV, isn’t the onlydonor.

Because its treatment is lifelong, HIV is the most expensive disease on the planet right now. That it is lifelong is actually a very good thing — it means that we’ve gotten to a point where HIV is no longer a death sentence. But it requires ongoing testing and medication. That is expensive, particularly in certain places around the world. The funding can’t come solely from the U.S.; it needs to be a shared burden across high income countries.

PEPFAR has long benefitted from diverse, broad-based, bi-partisan support. Why do you think that is?

It’s a very easy proposition to ask, “What should we spend our money on as taxpayers” when the answer is saving lives. But, to be clear, this is not simply about charity. Funding the fight against HIV is critical for the United States and our national security interests. It helps make the world a safer, more stable place, builds economies that we can trade with, and supports human rights advances. All of our interests, on a global scale, can be seen through the prism of the HIV response.

Things are challenging in terms of funding right now. If you could speak directly to U.S. decision makers, what would you want to tell them?

We are at a tipping point with the HIV response. PEPFAR has been flat funded for almost a decade. We need to be thinking about what comes next, not just in terms of funding, but for programming. We have great treatment options and diagnostics, but we could be doing even better to drive to epidemic control.

Getting to a point where all new HIV infections are prevented requires more money. PrEP is fantastic, but it’s a daily pill and that’s not always easy to maintain. We need to be thinking about long acting injectables.

Why was it important for Friends to become a member of the GAPP? What do you see as the value GAPP provides in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Friends is a very small organization and we have a focused mandate. While we are an organization that punches above our weight, we can’t carry water on all of these issues on our own. We see our work in coalitions as absolutely core to our mission. So, working with the GAPP on everything related to HIV is a huge part of our work.

As a co-chair, what do you hope the GAPP is able to achieve in the coming year or so? What is your vision for the coalition?

We are a big coalition; more than 70 organizations. That means 70 different perspectives on how to address HIV. I would love to hear more from some of the smaller organizations, or those that are a little quieter within the GAPP. I’d love for them to be just as engaged as the large — or loud — organizations and see that their role is also important.

Is there a particular program or initiative within your organization that you would like to highlight?

As I mentioned, Friends is very focused on amplifying the voices of others. This refers not only to our partners in the coalition space, but also the various different constituent groups in our community. We serve as a catalyst, amplifying the voices of those who are impacted by the diseases as much as possible.

One example of this is our HEALS (Health and Education Advocacy Learning Series) project where we partner with civil society organizations in Kenya, Vietnam, and Indonesia for peer learning about advocacy to one’s government for health investments. Once a year, we bring our partner advocates to the U.S. for a day of shared learning and advocacy on the Hill. It would be great to have others in the GAPP engaged in this program, particularly if they have civil society partners in these regions. It could serve as a great opportunity for us to work together. (Note: for more information on HEALS, contact our Chief Policy Officer Mark Lagon).

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

One thing that we talk a lot about at Friends is how we frame global health within broader U.S. foreign policy. It’s easy for global health programs to become siloed; a select group of champions support it and appropriators look at it as a line item to fund. But I would argue that the majority of the foreign policy apparatus in D.C. isn’t really paying attention to the benefit global health can have. With partners, I’ve been working to find a way to make those connections more explicit and more public.