In 1991, the FXB Foundation funded the Global AIDS Policy Coalition (GAPC*) at the Harvard School of Public Health, with Dr. Jonathan Mann as its Founding Director. Before coming to the School as professor in 1990, Dr. Mann was the first head of the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organization (WHO). Bypassing the entrenched interests and inertia at WHO, Dr. Mann thrust AIDS into the spotlight as an international pandemic that needed to be addressed as a human rights, rather than just a medical issue. He recognized that HIV/AIDS was disproportionately affecting people who were vulnerable to the epidemic not solely because of their sexual practices but, more fundamentally, because they lacked human rights. Trained in medicine and epidemiology, Dr. Mann was passionately committed to public health, but wanted public health researchers and practitioners to use human rights as a tool to peer into the “black box” of the social determinants of health and organize them into a coherent framework for analysis and action: the public health policies could neither be sustainable nor have an impact if the people to whom they were intended did not have access to their fundamental human rights. AIDS was the most obvious demonstration of this.

The creation of FXB’s Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard is a result of a visionary partnership between Albina du Boisrouvray and Dr Jonathan Mann. In 1993, the FXB Foundation donated $20 million, one of the largest donations ever made to the Harvard School of Public Health, to establish the Center and pay for the construction of the seven-story François-Xavier Bagnoud Building on Huntington Avenue and the François-Xavier Bagnoud Professorship in Health and Human Rights.

The FXB Center for Health and Human Rights is the leading international center for education and scholarship on health and human rights. Indeed, perhaps no single institution anywhere has done as much to advance the idea that health and human rights are “inextricably linked”. At the same time, the Center’s faculty and staff have served on scores of committees and panels and advised numerous activist and policy-making groups. In doing so, they have influenced health, development and humanitarian aid policies and programs at national and international levels. This blend of education and scholarship with advocacy and policy formation is the Center’s special strength.

The FXB Center’s faculty operates at both the national and international levels through collaboration and partnerships with health and human rights practitioners, governmental and non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and international agencies to do the following:

  • Expand knowledge through scholarship, professional training, and public education;
  • Develop domestic and international policy focusing on the relationship between health and human rights in a global perspective;
  • Engage scholars, public health and human rights practitioners, public officials, donors, and activists in the health and human rights movement.

In 1994, the FXB Center for Health & Human Rights hosted the first International Conference on Health and Human Rights. Over 350 people from 42 countries attended. This was the first large meeting to bring the human rights and public health communities together. The conference was a catalyst for health and development organizations to add the protection of human rights as a necessary ‘ingredient’ to achieving their goals, as well as for human rights organizations to expand their agendas to take on health and development issues.

After the success of the first meeting, the Center hosted the Second International Conference on Health and Human Rights in 1996. This time, more than 700 people from 44 countries attended.

Starting in 1995 – and every year since – the Center chooses an essay written by a School of Public Health student to receive the François-Xavier Bagnoud Essay Award, which encourages students to learn and think about human rights in a public health context.

In 1996, it moved from its original location in Cambridge to the newly-constructed François-Xavier Bagnoud Building at the Harvard School of Public Health in the Longwood Medical Area in Boston.

Jennifer Leaning took her functions as Director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights on January 1st 2010. Her nomination was a result of an international research for a successor to Jim Yong Kim, Director of the FXB Center from 2006 to 2009. The Center was also headed by Stephen P. Marks who is one of the world’s top experts in international rights and politics, international health, development and human rights.

As Steven E. Hyman, Provost of Harvard University then, noted in the Harvard Gazette, ‘Jennifer’s experience on the ground, reaching to the most exposed regions, from Afghanistan to Somalia, gives her a unique perspective on the existing link between human rights and public health. We are glad to entrust her with the management of the FXB Center and rest assured that her engagement and her experience will enhance the children’s health.

It is worth noting FXB was the first NGO to have translated the enunciated rights of the International Convention of the Children’s Rights to the benefits of the poorest communities.

*The GAPC is an international organization, apolitical and pluridisciplinary gathering men and women who believe in the efficiency of independent means of analysis and information. It intends to reinforce and refine the means used to fight against AIDS.