Press statement

The global AIDS response has lost a great champion

UNAIDS is deeply saddened at the passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

GENEVA, 26 December 2021—UNAIDS is deeply saddened at the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who fought against apartheid in South Africa and combated racism and injustice worldwide. He was a powerful voice in the fight against AIDS, combating denial, demanding access to treatment for all, calling out against discrimination of people living with HIV, and championing the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, women, and children. His work on HIV and tuberculosis prevention and treatment changed global paradigms and saved many lives.

“A giant has fallen. Archbishop Tutu was a freedom fighter, a holy man, a great hero who played a history-shaping role in the liberation of Africa,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “He was a leading light who brought global attention to injustice in a way few others could and a champion for the rights of all people living with and affected by AIDS. Millions are alive and free today because of the path he charted and the hope he brought to this world.”

Archbishop Tutu was outspoken in calling for an end to AIDS denialism in South Africa.  He fought for access to lifesaving medicines. "People, not profits, must be at the centre of patent law for medicines," he said while calling on pharmaceutical companies to make AIDS medicines accessible. He was also a champion of rights of gay people. He likened laws that criminalize forms of human love as apartheid laws—”so obviously wrong”.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was an advocate for preventing HIV infection in adolescents and young people. He co-chaired the UNAIDS commission on HIV prevention in 2011 that led to setting bold global targets for HIV prevention. He extolled on young people to take on the leadership on AIDS. “Bold and honest actions are needed, and we look to the next generation of leaders to bring about positive change in attitudes and actions,” said Archbishop Tutu while speaking with young leaders in Robben Island on HIV prevention.

“UNAIDS has lost a friend, guide and mentor,” said Ms Byanyima. “Our thoughts are with his family, the people of South Africa, and many around the world whose lives he touched and changed for the better.”


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 and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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