The Reference Group was formed in 1997 with a secretariat established in 1999 to formalize and streamline its operation. The Group advises on the development and refinement of the estimation and projection software package (EPP and Spectrum) used by UNAIDS to estimate the national and global burden of HIV. The Reference Group seeks to balance practicality and scientific rigour to make recommendations based on the best-available evidence. To do this it organises international meetings of experts to advise on topics of contemporary relevance which will impact upon HIV epidemiology and estimation of HIV incidence, prevalence, AIDS deaths, need for treatment and other epidemiological indicators. Rather than having a formal membership, meeting participants are invited to attend meetings where their expertise is relevant.

The specific objectives of the Reference Group are:


To advise UNAIDS, and other international organisations involved in estimating HIV/AIDS and its impact, on the most appropriate methods and assumptions for their Global Estimates;


To streamline the interpretation and communication of data on HIV epidemiology between researchers, public health officials and other interested parties;


To regularly review and disseminate available evidence and opinions on the predicted scale of the HIV epidemic and its impact;


To endorse and provide methods and parameter estimates for estimations and projections in HIV epidemiology.

It is the role of the secretariat to promote and facilitate these objectives through the organisation of annual and ad hoc meetings. Each meeting of the Reference Group is structured to ensure participants provide clear recommendations to UNAIDS regarding the methods and process of producing estimates and projections of HIV and AIDS statistics. This process also provides an opportunity to review current approaches and helps to identify information needs. This transparent process aims to allow the statistics and reports published by UNAIDS and WHO to be informed by impartial, scientific peer review.