UNFPA The United Nations Population Fund

Joint UN statement calling for sexual and reproductive health and rights for all

11 July 2024

In April, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, governments renewed their commitment and determination to accelerate the implementation of the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the principles of which are embedded in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including commitments to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services and to advance reproductive rights.1

Significant progress has been made over the past three decades. Since 1990, the number of women using modern contraception has doubled. Since 2000, maternal mortality has declined by 34 per cent. By 2022, access to HIV treatment had averted an estimated 20.8 million deaths globally. More recently, however, this progress has stalled and in some instances is reversing. Looking forward, the prospect of continued progress is far from guaranteed. The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent and increasing conflict, climate change, rising inequalities and deepening polarization are all undermining access to quality, essential health services. These setbacks demand urgent action.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by these challenges, hindering their right to make informed decisions and exercise full bodily autonomy without coercion, violence or discrimination – fundamental human rights. Equitable and sustainable access to human rights–based sexual and reproductive health interventions and information remains beyond the reach of many – especially marginalized women, adolescent girls and those living in humanitarian crises and conflict zones. The latest data show that close to half of women of reproductive age cannot make their own informed decisions about whether or when to become pregnant, and many still lack the autonomy and agency to fully exercise their reproductive rights.

On World Population Day, as UN agencies mandated to advance the health and rights of all people and ensure no one is left behind, we call upon the global community, including governments, donors, civil society organizations, and the private sector to strengthen access to a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services as part of universal health coverage, delivered through resilient health systems including at the primary healthcare level. We underscore the need to implement evidence-based, normative guidance to strengthen access to affordable, high quality and rights-based care. To ensure services are acceptable to all, efforts are needed to eliminate stigma and discrimination and dismantle harmful social and gender norms.

We also call for accelerated access to comprehensive sexuality education and strengthened action across social sectors, such as education and gender, to enhance the health and well-being of girls and women throughout their lives. Promoting comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights is not only the right thing to do – it is also the smart thing to do. Investing in women’s and girls’ reproductive rights and agency and expanding access to services is proven to have remarkable returns, including in terms of social wellbeing, economic prosperity and peace, which our world so desperately needs. Additional financing from all sources – domestic, international, public, private – is essential to create long-term positive outcomes for women and girls.

We must also urgently support the increasing efforts of young people, women and communities to speak up about sexual and reproductive health concerns and to design and deliver solutions that respond to their needs and to the realities of a changing world, where climate change in particular, affects sexual and reproductive health and rights. An inclusive, bottom-up approach to designing and delivering health interventions with and for communities can deliver more sustainable results and reach those who are furthest left behind.

We urge the public and private sectors to collaborate in exploring cutting-edge technologies like telemedicine, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and predictive modeling to bridge geospatial gaps and expand access to essential services, particularly in remote and underserved areas. At the same time, we call on innovators to address the risks inherent in these new technologies, including gender gaps in access, technology-facilitated gender-based violence, and systematic biases embedded in tech design.

Finally, we call upon governments, communities, civil society organizations and the private sector to unite to prioritize universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, in ways that advance gender equality and promote the full realization of human rights, in line with the groundbreaking vision of the ICPD Programme of Action. We ask for more than a commitment, more than business as usual — this is an appeal to collaborate and innovate in ways that ensure everyone can realize their rights to health, dignity and security. As we head towards the Summit of the Future at the United Nations General Assembly in September, now is the time to act boldly and decisively, forging a path towards a more just, equitable and sustainable world for all.

Thirty years ago in Cairo, 179 governments adopted a framework that recognized sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights and the empowerment of women and girls as foundational pillars of sustainable development – the landmark Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. As UN agencies, we stand together committed to advancing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights, which are integral to everyone’s right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and essential for the achievement of gender equality.

[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/content/regional-reviews-icpd-programme-action


The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at unaids.org and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Girls’ education for HIV prevention at 1st Pan-African Conference on Girls’ and Women’s Education in Africa

08 July 2024

Girls’ education as a tool to prevent HIV infection has been centered at the 1st African Union Pan-African Conference on Girls’ and Women’s Education in Africa. This followed African leaders designating education as the 2024 African Union theme of the year.

At a high-level side event hosted by the Education Plus Initiative on the first day of conference held at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leaders, girls’ and women’s networks and advocates called for greater investments in girls’ education.

“Some people claim that providing girls with secondary education is too expensive. Such claims fail to consider the exponentially higher cost of not educating them,” said UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima. “We can get all our girls and boys to complete secondary education; that should be our legacy."

UNICEF calculates that 34 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa are out of secondary school. According to the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report 2023, in all regions in Africa, there are more girls out of school at the secondary level than boys, with gender disparities worsening as children move up to higher levels of education in favour of boys over girls. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of adolescent girls complete secondary education, their percentage standing at 42% and there has been no progress at all in closing this gap in the past 20 years.  Sub-Saharan Africa is the region furthest from parity at the expense of girls, with no progress since 2011 at the lower secondary level and since 2014 in upper secondary.

Gender is a key factor linked to disparities in enrolment, retention, completion, and learning outcomes through social conditioning, gender-based differences in parental expectations and education-related investments, child marriages and early childbearing, female genital mutilation, child labour, gender-based violence, period poverty and discrimination.

More than forty years into the HIV response, Africa remains an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic with adolescent girls and young women being disproportionately affected. Every week 3100 adolescent girls and young women acquired HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Every three minutes, an adolescent girl or young woman aged 15-24 years acquired HIV in 2022 in sub-Saharan Africa.  Adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years in the region were more than three times as likely to acquire HIV than their male peers in 2022.

UN agencies, African Union representatives, government ministers, and young women leaders called for accelerated actions to translate commitments to action through leveraging girls' education for gender equality and preventing HIV, child marriage, teenage pregnancies, violence, gender-related stigma and discrimination in Africa.

Speakers emphasized the connection between health and education. Ministers spoke about key policy reforms and best practices aimed at promoting girls' education, including creating safe and inclusive school environments, strategies to get girls into secondary school, and the readmission policy that addresses high dropout rates due to pregnancy.  UN co-leads emphasised the need for improved collection of data disaggregated by sex and other relevant population characteristics to better understand educational participation, progression, and learning, and using gender-sensitive data for policymaking and planning. 

Other issues highlighted included the integration of digital literacy programs into the secondary education and vocational training curriculum to facilitate smooth transitions from school to employment; integrate gender equality into all aspects of the education system, including curriculum-based comprehensive sexuality education  and life skills, address gender-based violence  within schools and discriminatory laws and practices, and access to information, non-discriminatory HIV and sexual and reproductive health services access.

Young women leaders spoke on the role of partnerships and young women's leadership. Participants highlighted the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration as an opportunity moment to accelerate accountability and commitments, as well as the CSW Resolution 60/2, Women, the Girl Child and HIV and AIDS as significant mechanisms to address political and resource gaps so no woman or girl is behind in the HIV response.

Education Plus is a rights-based, gender-responsive action agenda to ensure adolescent girls and young women have equal access to quality secondary education, alongside key education and health services and support for their economic autonomy and empowerment.  Co-led by five UN agencies, the initiative builds on existing frameworks like the Transforming Education Summit, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA) and the Dakar Education for All (EFA) Declaration to push for access and completion of education for women and girls in Africa.


" Some people claim that providing girls with secondary education is too expensive. Such claims fail to consider the exponentially higher cost of not educating them. We know the consequences when girls can’t finish secondary school: higher risks of sexual violence, early marriage, unwanted pregnancy, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and HIV infection. But when a girl completes secondary school, it helps her to be safe and strong. If all girls complete secondary education, adolescent pregnancy could be cut by 75% and early marriage could be virtually eliminated. An extra year of secondary school can increase women’s eventual wages by 15-25%. We can get all our girls and boys to complete secondary education; that should be our legacy."

Ms.Winnie Byanyima UNAIDS Executive Director

We must recognize the intersecting challenges girls face, including HIV. They face extraordinarily high levels of HIV infections. Women and girls represented 63% of all new HIV infections in Africa in 2022. Empowering girls with knowledge is key to ending AIDS as a public health threat. Education is the best HIV prevention tool available.”

Dr. Sihaka Tsemo Director of the UNAIDS Liaison Office to the African Union

“African nations should ensure that young people not only gain vital knowledge but also acquire life skills, values, attitudes, and make decisions in order to live healthy and fulfilled lives. Through the AU strategy, we will see increased awareness about the importance of investing in education and the health of children and adolescents.”

Dr. Caseley Olabode Stephens African Union Commission

“Girls’ education is not only a right, but will also result in broad socio-economic development for countries. We are creating a safe and conducive environment for adolescent girls and young through the criminalization of child marriage, FGM, school-related gender-based violence, and sexual harassment, particularly sexual exploitation perpetrated by teachers. We provide life skills and comprehensive sexuality education in schools and ensure an inclusive school environment for children with disabilities, with specific attention to girls. We have enhanced social protection strategies, including cash transfers to poor households to ensure that girls go to school and are not engaged in care work and child labour.”

Hon. Médessè Véronique Tognifode Mewanou Minister of Social Affairs and Microfinance, Benin

“Girls who dropped out due to early pregnancies or early unwanted pregnancies are readmitted. We have a national girls’ education strategy aimed at facilitating the pace at which Malawi may achieve sustainable development goals. We emphasize universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality and empowering women.”

Hon. Nancy Chaola Mdooko Deputy Minister, Ministry of Education, Malawi

“We are trying to remove the cultural norm barriers and negative gender stereotypes that contribute to gender-based violence and discrimination against adolescent girls and young women with a male engagement strategy. Inclusive education provides special provisions for the less privileged and disadvantaged children and youth; user-friendly infrastructure, teaching and learning materials and provision of expert teachers.”

Hon. Nancy Chaola Mdooko Deputy Minister, Ministry of Education, Malawi

“Education is a human right. The Education Plus Initiative is driving policy changes in Africa. Education Plus seeks to keep adolescent girls and young women in school by simply unequivocally saying no to child marriage, no to violence, no to HIV infections, no to gender-related stigma, and of course, no to harmful practices. We want to keep girls in secondary education and make sure they stay there and complete their education. We do that by supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights, comprehensive sexuality education and work for integration HIV awareness, preventing and managing learners pregnancies and addressing school-related gender-based violence.”

Mr. Saturnin EPIE Chief, UNFPA Representation Office to the African Union and UNECA

“We need to scale up effective interventions to increase HIV knowledge and transform gender norms, and hence girls’ access to services. We should explore the potential of innovative solutions offered by digital technologies to mobilize and provide young women and adolescent girls with comprehensive HIV information. Let's do more, particularly for those girls living with HIV to be meaningfully engaged in the HIV response. Young women must have a formal seat and a safe space to raise their needs. let's move from rhetoric to action.”

Ms. Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative, Malawi

“The numbers are unfortunately very clear: highest adolescent pregnancy rates of the world are in sub-Saharan Africa, highest percentages of women first married or in union before 18, young women more than 3 times as likely of HIV infection, or unacceptably high rates of justification of wife beating among adolescents. Fortunately, we benefit from a strong set of political commitments and strategies to face these issues. There is the Education Plus Initiative, the WCA Commitment for Educated, Healthy and Thriving Adolescents and Young People, the ESA Commitment, and the AU Continental Strategy on Education for Health and Wellbeing of Young People in Africa. It is high time to convert the commitments and strategies in concrete results for adolescent girls and young women.”

Mr. Xavier Hospital Regional Health Education Adviser, UNESCO

“Girls need an affirming environment. Where there's ignorance, there's a lot of resistance to education and sexuality education in the curriculum. We need to engage to change the environment, talking with parents, men and boys, community members and leaders for them to have access to information because they have a great influence on the lives of these young people. We need inclusive advocacy, especially the rural grassroots and true localization of information and interventions.”

Ms. Chidinma Adibeli Young Woman Leader, West and Central Africa

Invest in women and girls’ education and health rights to end AIDS in Africa

11 March 2024

Despite substantial declines in new HIV infections globally, the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to disproportionately impact adolescent girls and young women in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2022, there were 3,100 new weekly infections among adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years.  In sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls and young women accounted for more than 77% of new infections among people aged 15-24 years in 2022.

That’s why Education Plus Initiative co-hosted with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg a high-level side event on the margins of the 68th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) to bring attention to the cost of inaction, calling for more consistent investment in education, health and economic rights of adolescent girls and young women in Africa. The CSW, which runs from 11- 22 March 2024, is the United Nations largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, with this year’s priority theme, Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.

Speakers included four ministers from Luxembourg, Benin, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, senior government officials from Cameroon and South Africa, and heads of UN agencies who co-lead Education Plus, ATHENA network. Hannah Dolly Kargbo, a young activist from Freetown, Sierra Leone, and founder of the Girls Advocacy Development Network (GADNET), pre-recorded a video that showed her work with young people to advance rights.

The event, Education Plus investment cases for transformative results: leveraging girls completion of secondary education for gender equality and HIV prevention mobilized government, partners and key stakeholders towards accelerated actions and translate commitments to action for gender equality and HIV prevention in Africa.

The costs of inaction on the rates of HIV in adolescent girls and young women remain significant, not only counted in terms of the harmful impacts on girls’ lives but in how they undermine prospects for poverty eradication and the well-being and resilience of families, communities, societies and national economies.  For instance, the lack of educational and economic opportunities that result in women’s diminished labour force participation is estimated to cost the African region US$60 billion in economic losses every year. And yet Africa could gain US$500 billion per year through multi-sectoral investments in adolescents and youth, especially girls, by capitalizing on demographic windows of opportunity.

Education Plus calls for investment in the education and empowerment of adolescent girls and young women, and 15 champion countries are already committed to using education as a means to reduce high HIV rates.  Investments that guarantee education for all young people, violence-free school environments, provision of stigma-free health services, comprehensive sexuality education, access to sexual reproductive health and rights services and economic autonomy and empowerment are key to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. When adolescent girls and young women complete secondary school, their risk of getting HIV is reduced significantly.


“We must take immediate action to change this situation, get girls back to school and ensure they complete secondary education. This requires commitments made by African member states to address gender inequalities, stigma and discrimination that fuels these infections fulfilled. There is progress in Africa, but it simply isn't fast enough. That's why we have this initiative - Education Plus”

Winnie Byanyima UN Under-Secretary General and UNAIDS Executive Director

“What I find extremely worrying is the surge in extreme conservative policies on sexual and reproductive health and rights. This is across the world but also in sub-Saharan Africa. We must avoid going back in time. We need to empower girls because it's the only way that we will have women empowered.”

Yuriko Backes Minister of Gender Equality and Diversity, Luxembourg

“We can make HIV a disease of the past, but we can't do it without listening to understanding and supporting young girls and women to take the lead. Now is the time to ensure that every girl lives a life free from violence with unhindered access to quality education, to sexual and reproductive health rights and services and with meaningful opportunities to lead a productive life.”

Catherine Russell UN Under-Secretary General and UNICEF Executive Director

"We know that investing in girls' education and health is an important lever. We can't build our country's development by leaving out 53% of our population"

Véronique Tognifodé Minister of Social Affairs and Microfinance, Republic of Benin

“Under the radical inclusion policy, we are bringing pregnant girls back to school, retain girls when they become pregnant. So, education and HIV go a long way! When they are educated and have an awareness of HIV, their well-being, and reproductive and sexual rights, they are more assertive when negotiating safer sex.”

Isata Mahoi Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Sierra Leone

“Adolescent girls and young women's organizations are the least funded. Only less than 5% funding of gender equality goes to women's rights organizations, even less goes to young feminist-led organizations. We need to keep the ones who are most affected, most impacted leading the response. We're not here to ask for leadership but to offer leadership to co-lead alongside you.”

Catherine Nyambura Programs Director, ATHENA Network

"It is now a policy that when constructing a school, you must have sanitary facilities separate for both girls and boys, and girls changing rooms and space. We also have intensified education, communication and advocacy on HIV/AIDS and opened schools to give information on sexual and reproductive health. We are working with girls who have dropped out of school to skill them."

Amongi Betty Ongom Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development, Uganda

“Girls are unable to live up to their full potential because of barriers, but those barriers are dismantlable. Africa is not poor, but African women and girls are licking a spoon, a spoon they do not even own, so let's shift the discourse so that the resources also available in the countries are prioritized for investing in education, HIV prevention and investing in girls.”

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda UN Assistant Secretary-General and UN Women Deputy Executive Director for Normative Support, UN System Coordination and Programme Results

Related: At the 68th Commission on Status of Women UNAIDS calls for action to achieve gender equality and end AIDS


At the 68th Commission on Status of Women UNAIDS calls for action to achieve gender equality and end AIDS

11 March 2024

GENEVA/NEW YORK, 11 March 2024 - UNAIDS is gearing up for the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (#CSW68) which begins today and will run until 22 March 2024. #CSW68, the United Nations largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, is being held this year under the priority theme, Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.

Despite progress, no country has achieved gender equality to date, and violations of women’s human rights and gender-based violence are continuing to fuel the AIDS pandemic. The world is off track to meet the gender targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in many of the world’s poorest countries, the debt crisis is squeezing out investment in education, health, and social protection, particularly hurting women and girls.

Around the world today, 129 million girls are out of school, denying them lifesaving information on how to protect themselves from HIV. Every three minutes, an adolescent girl or young woman (15-24 years) acquired HIV in 2022 in sub-Saharan Africa, and across Africa, AIDS remains the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age.

"There can be no more excuses. Ending AIDS among women and girls is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic priority for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “Only by protecting and investing in the rights of women and girls can we protect their health, and only by protecting women’s health can we end the AIDS pandemic. We must seize this opportunity to accelerate progress towards a world where every woman and girl can, not just survive, but thrive."

During #CSW68 UNAIDS will be co-hosting several key events including a high level meeting co-convened by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Education Plus (a joint initiative of UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women) which will mobilize government, partners and stakeholders to accelerate scaled up actions on women’s rights and leverage girls’ education for gender equality and HIV prevention across Africa.

UNAIDS is urging renewed action and anticipates strong outcomes from #CSW68. UNAIDS looks forward to the partnerships that will be forged to accelerate progress towards gender equality and ending AIDS as a global public health threat.

UNAIDS remains steadfast in its commitment to working collaboratively with governments, civil society, and other partners to create a world where the rights and dignity of all women and girls are respected and protected, including women and girls living with, at risk of and affected by HIV.

#CSW68, hosted by the United Nations, will convene leaders, advocates, governments, civil society organizations, activists and experts to discuss, agree on actions and investments that can end women’s poverty and advance gender equality.

Follow the Education Plus event live on Tuesday 12 March at 08:00 – 09:30 EST - Making Education Investment Cases Work for Gender Equality and HIV Prevention  


The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at unaids.org and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.


Rupa Bhadra
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Government leaders reaffirm their commitment to accelerate HIV prevention efforts to reduce new HIV infections

10 November 2023

With just two years left to attain the 2025 HIV prevention target of fewer than 370 000 new HIV infections annually, the world is not on track. In 2022, 1.3 million people became infected with HIV – the urgency to accelerate progress cannot be overemphasized. The Global HIV Prevention Coalition co-convened by UNAIDS and UNFPA ensures a strengthened and sustained political commitment for primary prevention across key policy makers and programme implementers. It includes countries such as Botswana, Cameroon, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda South Africa, and Zimbabwe – which have reduced new HIV infections by more than 70% since 2010.  

However, there were disparities across populations and regions. No significant declines were seen among key populations (sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs).

Globally, 4,000 new HIV infections occurred among adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years, every week – 3,000 of these occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. Approaches and investments for HIV prevention are currently insufficient to meet global targets.

The directors of National AIDS Coordinating Agencies, Ministry of Health HIV leads from the Global HIV Prevention Coalition focus countries and development partners were convened by the HIV Prevention Leadership Forum, with support from UNAIDS and UNFPA, to reinforce their commitment to stopping new HIV infections. This is part of efforts to ensure effective implementation of expanded HIV programmes with a focus on key and priority populations .

During the meeting, each country identified commitments  that they will drive and will be held accountable for in 2024 as well as technical level actions necessary for programme optimization.  Donors and global technical partners identified opportunities for technical and financial resources available at country level to supplement national resources to drive the action plans. 

The first lady of Namibia and UNAIDS Special Advocate for Adolescent Girls, and Young Women, Her Excellency Monica Geingos urged the country leaders in the HIV response to adapt solutions tailored to their national needs culturally, socio-economically, and politically. Whilst strengthening global collaboration, leaders should strengthen partnerships across sectors within the countries. Success in HIV prevention is possible, however, not only does it require leadership at government level, but also communities must lead.

The Global Prevention Coalition co-chair and former Minister of Health of Botswana, Prof. Sheila Tlou encouraged government leaders to follow the science, make data-driven decisions and ensure community leadership and participation in HIV prevention programming. This will secure gains made, bridge disparities and expedite progress needed for success in HIV prevention.

Dr Ruth Laibon Masha, Co-Chair of the HIV Multi-Sector Leadership Forum and Director, National Syndemic Disease Control Council, underscored the need to secure gains made by extraordinary leaders from multiple sectors who have played a crucial role in advancing the HIV movement and achieving significant progress. “By continuing to lead from the front we can work together towards the goal of delivering a future free of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. It’s time to recommit and finish the race against time “, she added.

Vice Minister, National Disease Control and Prevention Administration (NDCPA) affirmed China’s commitment towards strengthened multisectoral leadership and promotion of a nationally led HIV prevention and health agenda.


“In this moment, community leadership counts, country leadership counts in making the commitments of this meeting and our Action Plans a reality”

Winnie Byanyima UNAIDS Executive Director

“While scientists, policymakers and funders will continue to drive and be essential to this work, it’s community leadership and mobilization that will end this epidemic. But no matter how good the science or community leadership, HIV will not end if we don’t have significant policy change to reverse criminalization and lessen stigmatization of affected populations. If we can’t protect human rights, then we can’t end HIV. This is never just about the virus—it’s about people, and the people must lead.”

Mitchell Warren GPC Co-Chair and Executive Director AVAC

Position paper

The United Nations welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalize same sex relations in Mauritius

04 October 2023

This will speed up progress to end the AIDS pandemic and save lives.

GENEVA, 4 October 2023—The United Nations in Mauritius—which includes UNAIDS, UNFPA, OHCHR, UNDP and WHO—welcome today’s ruling by the Supreme Court of Mauritius that a discriminatory law criminalizing consensual same sex relations is unconstitutional and will be immediately struck from the legal code. Previously, under Section 250 of the Mauritian Criminal Code (which dated back to 1898) anyone convicted could have faced up to five years in prison.

“The Supreme Court today overturned an obsolete colonial law and demonstrated its commitment to non-discrimination and leaving no-one behind,” said Lisa Singh, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Mauritius. “The UN in Mauritius and internationally welcomes the decision of Mauritius to join the growing list of African countries protecting the human rights of everyone, including LGBTQI+ people.”

The ruling noted that “Section 250 was not introduced in Mauritius to reflect any indigenous Mauritian values but was inherited as part of our colonial history from Britain. Its enactment was not the expression of domestic democratic will, but was a course imposed on Mauritius and other colonies by British rule.” It also noted that a growing number of countries have decriminalized consensual same sex sexual relations, including the United Kingdom which overturned its law in 1967. 

“Mauritius' decision to decriminalize homosexuality is an important step forward for public health and a step towards equal rights, respect and dignity for the LGBTQI community,” said Anne Githuku-Shongwe, Director of UNAIDS’ Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa. “UNAIDS applauds Mauritius for today’s decision which will mean that men who have sex with men will have much easier access to the health and social services they need without fear of arrest or criminalization. Work will need to continue to break down the barriers of stigma and discrimination towards the LGBTQI community, but today’s ruling is a positive step in the right direction. It will save lives.”

Mauritius becomes the latest in a growing list of countries to declare that laws which have criminalized LGBTQI people are unconstitutional. However, UNAIDS estimates that 66 countries still have laws which criminalize consensual same sex relations. In addition to contravening the human rights of LGBTQI people, these laws impede access to health and social services, including HIV services. Such laws fuel stigma and discrimination against LGBTQI people and put them under constant fear of being punished or detained.

The case was brought forward by Abdool Ridwan Firaas Ah Seek, President of Arc-en-Ciel, the largest and longest-standing organisation in Mauritius championing the human rights of LGBTQI people, and was supported by partners including the Human Dignity Trust.

Civil society organizations, especially community-led organizations, are at the forefront of a global wave of progress that advances access to health for all. UNAIDS urges all countries to decriminalise same sex sexual relations. Decriminalization saves and changes lives.

Maneesh Gobin, Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration in Mauritius said, “In keeping with its internationally acclaimed respect for the rule of law, Mauritius will indeed report to United Nations Member States at the next cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.” The Universal Periodic Review is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council that calls for each UN Member State to undergo a peer review of its human rights records every 4.5 years.


The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at unaids.org and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.


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Supporting women and girls affected by gang violence in Haiti

29 June 2023

At Refuge des Femmes d'Haiti, a small women's community-based organization in the commune of Croix-des-Bouquets, Port-au-Prince, Martha Norcimè, a 34-year-old pregnant woman from the nearby commune of Delmas, completes her training in sewing and macramé—a form of textile produced using knotting techniques.

She is part of a group of vulnerable women deeply affected by the gang violence and warfare that has impacted several areas of the capital since early 2022. Most of her peers came from Croix-de-Bouquets. All of them—including women with HIV—living in challenging circumstances, who have seen their livelihood completely disappear throughout these past two years as violence rose.

"I will soon give birth to my first child. I used to sell food and cleaning products that I was buying on the Haitian-Dominican border between Jimani and Malpasse, and I was then selling in markets in the city and in my neighborhood,” recalls Martha. “But I could no longer continue, given the blockade of the North city entry controlled by armed gangs. So many women traders are raped, kidnapped, or robbed by them."

In the fall of 2022, a joint UN project coordinated by the UNAIDS Country Office in Haiti, with participation from UNFPA, UNDP, and UNICEF, has been launched in partnership with Refuge des Femmes d’Haiti and with the support of FOSREF, a Haitian non-governmental organization. The goal is to support women and girls living this daily reality by empowering and giving them the tools to remain healthy and overcome the feminization of HIV in Haiti.

Haiti’s significant gains made over the past decade in controlling its HIV epidemic are now under threat, particularly in the capital, where a third of the 11.8 million Haitians reside. The brunt of an ongoing socio-economic and security crisis triggered by the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 is borne by adolescent girls, young and adult women.

The feminization of HIV has long been a feature of the Haiti pandemic with HIV prevalence for females at 2.3%, compared to 1.6% among men. Still, the continuing multi-faced and profound crisis, fueled by such levels of violence, is exposing thousands of women to HIV infection.

In October 2022, a joint human rights report published by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), entitled Sexual violence in Port-au-Prince: a weapon used by gangs to instill fear denounced collective rape by gangs in the capital as a weapon of war. In May 2023, research conducted by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime in Cité-Soleil, another impoverished commune in Port-au-Prince deeply hit by gang activity, found that 80% of the women and girls who participated in the study had been victims of one or more forms of gender-based violence by one or multiple perpetrators.

"We work closely with UN Agencies to support women, victims of violence, make them financially independent and thus reduce the feminization of HIV, sexual and gender-based violence and maternal and neonatal mortality," says Novia Augustin, President of Ref-Haiti, and of the Federation of Women Organizations for the Equality and Human Rights (FEDOFEDH). "Difficulties are several, but the biggest is insecurity and the lack of financial resources. My motivation comes from our results: When I look at the satisfaction on the faces of the women we have accompanied, the recognition they show, I tell myself that it is worth it, despite all the difficulties encountered and the risks incurred."

Martha recalls how Novia opened the door to her for intensive training every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. At the time, she was already pregnant. And despite the pregnancy-related fatigue, she did not miss a single day of class. “I can sew skirts, bonnets, blouses and even sandals!" she says proudly. "But I can't do anything now because of this crisis. Sometimes I even miss my pre-natal appointments with the doctor just because I am afraid to go out."

Besides training, Ref-Haiti also included discussions  on HIV risk and prevention, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, family planning, and cholera. The awareness-raising activities targeted women beneficiaries and hundreds of young girls of other affected communes.

"We are working to support an integrated health response for women and girls so severely affected by gang violence and by socio-economic inequality”, says Christian Mouala, UNAIDS Country Director for Haiti. “We are proud of women-led local organizations such as Refuge des Femmes and their immeasurable efforts to support women to overcome the challenges they face."

All photos by UNDP Haiti

Virtual course on HIV, gender and human rights: empowering medical teachers in Guatemala

18 May 2023

The University of San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC) Faculty of Medical Sciences, in collaboration with UNAIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), launched an online course titled "Conceptos clave sobre VIH, Género y Derechos Humanos" (Key Concepts on HIV, Gender, and Human Rights). The four-module course is designed to provide teaching staff with detailed knowledge about key concepts related to HIV, its treatment and prevention, and the national and international legal framework guiding the response to HIV, as well as the gender and human rights dimensions of the epidemic.

With an estimated three new HIV infections each day in Guatemala and only 73% of the estimated 31,000 people living with HIV receiving antiretroviral treatment and persisting high level of stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV, the course is a significant step towards addressing the country's HIV challenges. The course aims to provide teaching staff and students with the necessary resources to promote, protect, and fulfill the human rights of adults, adolescents, and children living with or at risk of acquiring HIV, in all their diversity.

The course consists of 140 hours of study, including 70 hours of theory and 70 hours of practice, and will be undertaken between May and August 2023. Course participants will join virtual classes and synchronous group workshops and will have to submit the required tasks according to a work schedule.

The course covers four modules: Module 1 - Update on HIV and AIDS; Module 2 - National and international legal framework for the response to HIV; Module 3 - Health sector Policy framework for HIV response; Module 4- Key concepts on gender and human Rights.

During the inauguration, Marie Engel, UNAIDS Country Director, expressed her hope that participants would enjoy taking the course as much as she and other partners had in developing it. She also emphasized that "the course will be enriched with participants' individual knowledge and experiences, their doubts and concerns. There is obviously a lot of knowledge and wisdom among course participants that the facilitators will strive to capture."

Dr. José María Gramajo, General Coordinator of the USAC Faculty of Medical Sciences' Area of Teachers and Postgraduate training, highlighted that "this refresher course will contribute to the professional development of faculty teachers, sharing with them the latest knowledge about innovations related to HIV prevention, detection, and care, and ensuring an in-depth understanding of cross-cutting issues relevant to HIV and other public health problems."

Teaching staff and students are catalysts with the power to change the national response to HIV. As stated by Dr. Mirna Herrarte, Coordinator of the national HIV, STI, and AIDS program, "I am glad to know that there are so many professionals who want to know more about HIV. In the country, HIV treatment schemes are constantly reviewed. As an anecdote, Guatemala had more than 200 antiretroviral schemes a year ago. Under my leadership, we have reduced those schemes by 75%."

Inequalities persist in the most basic health and HIV services, such as access to screening, treatment, and condoms. USAC's collaborative initiative is an important step towards ensuring that all sectors, including academia, are engaged in ending social, economic, and legal inequities. The University of San Carlos de Guatemala is the largest and oldest university in Guatemala, and the only national and public university in the Central American country. 


United for ending cervical cancer, HIV and inequities for women and girls

17 November 2022

On this Day of Action, as we celebrate a two-year anniversary of the launch by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the Global Strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem, we are reminded that despite the availability of the knowledge, tools and technologies, cervical cancer still kills more than 342 000 women a year (in 2020) globally. Every two minutes one woman loses her life to cervical cancer - a disease that is preventable and curable.

The high burden of cervical cancer is driven by gender, social and economic inequalities and health disparities in access to HPV vaccines, screening, care and modern prevention and treatment technologies. Because of those inequalities, women and girls in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) remain most affected. Nine out of 10 women who die of cervical cancer reside in LMICs.  Cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related death among women living in sub-Saharan Africa.

The WHO Global Strategy to eliminate cervical cancer launched by the WHO on 17 November, 2020 was supported among many by the UN partner organizations including IAEA, UNAIDS, UNFPA , UNICEF, and Unitaid. The UN Joint Action Group comprised of these six UN entities each bringing in its unique mandates and resources, is committed to supporting countries efforts in meeting by 2030 the global cervical cancer elimination targets – whereby 90% of girls are fully vaccinated against HPV by age 15, 70% of women are screened with a high-performance test between the ages of 35 to 45, and 90% of women identified as having cervical disease receive treatment. If these targets are met, 300 000 deaths from cervical cancer could be averted by 2030, 14 million by 2070, and over 62 million by 2120.

“In countries with high rates of HIV, over 50% of cervical cancer cases are reported among women living with HIV.  Women living with HIV are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer and to develop it at younger age than those without HIV. It is unacceptable to claim that we have saved a woman’s life by enabling access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV alone, if we then leave her to die from cervical cancer. Our joint focus is on breaking down silos, building bridges between HIV and cervical cancer programmes, and bringing the two communities together because we know that linkages save lives.” – Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director 

“No woman should die of cervical cancer when we have a highly effective HPV vaccine and quality diagnostics. We need prevention and early detection - this is how we ensure that this disease is eliminated globally.  Governments and partners need to invest in accelerated access to resilient primary health care that delivers integrated care like routine immunization and sexual and reproductive health. And we must commit robust long-term human resources for adequate and accessible health care workers in communities and at facility level. Funding for health and health equity are prerequisites for cervical cancer elimination around the world.” - Dr Aboubacar Kampo, Director of Health Programme, UNICEF New York HQ

“We have the tools and technologies to end cervical cancer. Now it is a question of access. Unitaid stepped up the moment WHO issued its call to action, and within just a few years we have introduced effective technologies and developed screen-and-treat models that work in resource-limited settings. The last piece of the puzzle is scale up – we need to see a concerted global effort so every last woman can benefit from life-saving preventive care and we can end cervical cancer for generations to come.” – Dr Philippe Duneton, Executive Director, Unitaid

“Despite being one of the leading causes of death from cancer for women in low- and medium-income countries (LMICs), cervical cancer is also one of the most preventable and treatable cancer types. Nuclear applications such as diagnostic imaging can help detect the cancer at an early stage and increase survival rates. Radiotherapy can successfully treat women with cervical cancer, even in advanced cases. With our Rays of Hope initiative, we aim to increase access to these technologies worldwide and close the unacceptable gap of inequality.”- Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications

“On this second anniversary of the Global Strategy for Cervical Cancer Elimination, the UN Joint Action Group (UNJAG)* celebrates the successes achieved. As the world population continues to grow, more girls and women will require life-saving vaccination, screening and treatment. We acknowledge the need for effective mobilization of resources and partners to achieve the 90-70-90 global elimination targets. Going forward we will continue to focus our attention and joint efforts on ensuring full prevention, high quality life-saving services and equity in access to modern technologies for women and girls across the world.” – Petra ten Hoope-Bender, UNJAG Chair, Technical Adviser Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, UNFPA.


Infographic: HIV and cervical cancer

Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem