AIDS & Human Rights

One of Rights and Humanity’s greatest achievements has been our pioneering work in shaping global AIDS policy within the framework of human rights, ethics and the principles of humanity – compassion and respect for human dignity.HIV/AIDS is one of the most pressing global concerns.

In our first year, it was immediately apparent to us that HIV/AIDS follows the fault lines of poverty and discrimination, and that women suffer particular vulnerability as a result of their disadvantaged legal, political, economic and socio-cultural status. Addressing these vulnerabilities therefore became a high priority for our work.

Since Rights and Humanity started its AIDS programme in 1987, the numbers of people affected by the pandemic have risen dramatically. However, in 2007, UNAIDS was reporting that global HIV prevalence—the percentage of people living with HIV—had levelled off and that the worldwide total number of new infections had fallen, in part as a result of the impact of HIV programmes. However, in some regions the numbers of people living with HIV were still rising.

In 1988, the World Health Organisation estimated that

  • 5.1 million people were infected with HIV
  • 1.5 million of whom were women


By 2002, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, estimated

  • 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS
  • 5 million new HIV infections in 2002, half of these are occurring in people under 25 years


By November 2007, UNAIDS estimated

  • 33.2 million people living with HIV
  • 68% of the global total, are in sub-Saharan Africa
  • In Asia, the number of people living with HIV has more than doubled between 2000 and 2005.


During our first decade, Rights and Humanity established itself as a global thought leader on AIDS and human rights. Our intensive programme on AIDS and Human Rights, and our work with WHO and the Commonwealth Secretariat greatly influenced global policy and strategies for action in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Our work directly touched the lives of people living with AIDS in countries throughout the world. We took every opportunity of meetings with policy-makers to stress that combating all forms of discrimination is an essential component of effective AIDS prevention strategies.

The urgency of the need to prevent the further spread of AIDS and our evidence that discrimination increased the risk of HIV transmission provided us with an effective entry-point for advocating for women’s rights and equality generally as well as respect for human rights across the spectrum of public health work.

In December 1991, our President was invited to address a new consortium of major donors in New York. She encouraged them to fund projects to protect human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS and to address the emerging social issues, including the plight of AIDS orphans in Africa.

We also played an important role in the preparation of the UN’s International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights adopted in 1996.

Our AIDS programme came to a logical end after the adoption of the International Guidelines on AIDS and Human Rights in 1996, but we continued to advocate for their implementation. Since 1997, we have kept involved in HIV/AIDS, particularly through our education programme and consultancies for the UN.

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