Artificial intelligence and big data: Risks and benefits to the HIV/AIDS response

KONG, Jolene Yiqiao, Masters student, Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland
BURZYNSKI, Richard, Senior Advisor, UNAIDS, Geneva, Switzerland
WEBER, Cynthia, Professor of International Relations, University of Sussex, United Kingdom

Executive Summary

Over the past few years, digital technologies, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) have emerged as a significant force in the response to HIV. These tools will speed up clinical research and improve access and delivery of HIV services. However, these tools also present challenges to the people-centred approach that characterizes the HIV/AIDS response as the potential for human rights violations increase.

Through case studies and scenarios, this paper explores three forces that intersect on this issue: the role of stakeholders to reach the globally agreed upon final target of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,the technological advances and their availability, the political narratives framing AI and its uptake, and how the HIV/AIDS response needs to evolve considering the above.

It concludes by highlighting three key considerations for the future of the HIV/AIDS response to limit human rights violations as new forms of fear, stigma and discrimination evolve in the digital era.


This paper highlights the emergence of new technologies and digital tools and how they challenge human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS. It also focuses on the challenges that HIV/AIDS response faces in this new digital era.

Today, the HIV/AIDS response incorporates the use of digital technologies, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat. These tools relate to HIV testing, prevention, care and treatment. Their use will increase ahead and is likely to be common in the near future – the next generation HIV/AIDS response.

On a positive note, digital technologies, especially AI, will affect the HIV/AIDS response in multiple ways. They can speed up clinical research; increase operational efficiencies of testing, diagnosis, care and treatment; reduce the need for human capital; improve access to health-care services in remote areas, and much more. However, such technologies also present challenges and risks that threaten the human-centric approach championed by UNAIDS and other stakeholders and threaten to increase human rights violations of people seeking HIV services.

Another challenge is how to interpret, mobilize and understand the use of digital technologies, including AI, in HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment services.

The main purpose of this paper is to examine the choices for the HIV/AIDS response that incorporates digital technologies, big data and AI to provide for the populations they serve, while confronting the human rights concerns that these tools raise.

Read the full paper here