Physical therapy, HIV and AIDS - resources and links

Physical therapy has a major role to play in optimising functioning in people living with HIV and AIDS. This information resource has been prepared for WCPT by colleagues from McMaster University and the University of Toronto, Canada. It is intended to assist physical therapists who want to know more and to inform others about the condition and the benefits of physical therapy, wherever in the world they live.


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a lentivirus (retrovirus family) that can lead to AIDS). This is a condition in which the human immune system begins to fail and the body progressively deteriorates. Any human can become infected with the virus regardless of age, class, gender or race. Most often, HIV is shared through blood, vaginal fluid, semen, and breast milk.

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In 2007, there were approximately 33 million people living with HIV worldwide.

Physical therapy

Physical therapists take a primary role in relation to the prevention and management of all diseases that are associated with low levels of physical activity, including HIV and AIDS. As experts in movement and exercise and with a thorough knowledge of pathology and its effects on all systems, physical therapists are the ideal professionals to promote, guide, prescribe and manage exercise activities that enable people living with the disease to maintain or improve their level of physical activity.

Exercise provides many benefits to people living with HIV/AIDS. In fact, it is a strategy used to reduce disabling consequences from chronic health problems caused by HIV infection. Physical therapists tend to work in interprofessional teams that provide rehabilitation services to individuals with HIV/AIDS.

For more information on the effects of exercise and HIV/AIDS please see and search “HIV and exercise”


“An estimated 650 million people, or 10% of the world’s population, have a disability. Although people with disabilities are found within the populations at higher risk of exposure to HIV, not much attention has been paid to the relationship between HIV and disability.” (UNAIDS, 2009)

To be linked to several different articles, reports, publications, newsletters and books on HIV and disability see: AIDS-Free World. Resource Guide AIDS and Disability. July 22, 2009.


Rehabilitation can make a difference in the lives of people living with HIV. It can help by keeping people healthy, and allowing them to continue to participate in the workforce. Finally, rehab can keep patients active.


HIV and human rights

The protection of human rights, both of those vulnerable to infection and those already infected, is not only right, but also produces positive public health results against HIV.



Global summary of the AIDS epidemic, December 2007
Number of people living with HIV in 2007 Total
Children under 15 years
33 million [30 - 36 million]
30.8 million [28.2 - 34.0 million]
15.5 million [14.2 - 16.9 million]
2.0 million [1.9 - 2.3 million]
People newly infected with HIV in 2007 Total
Children under 15 years
2.7 million [2.2 - 3.2 million]
2.3 million [1.9 - 2.8 million]
370,000 [330,000 - 410,000]
AIDS deaths in 2007 Total
Children under 15 years
2.0 million [1.8 - 2.3 million]
1.8 million [1.6 - 2.1 million]
270,000 [250,000 - 290,000]
Sources: UNAIDS. (December 2008). Addressing Women, Girls, Gender Inequality and HIV: A mapping of global, regional and multi-country activities by the UNAIDS and UNIFEM. July 22 2009.


Women are most affected by the disease. In fact, almost half of the infected people (15.5 million) are adult women.


HIV/AIDS is categorized as a “disease of poverty”, indicating that low income regions of the world often have difficulties controlling the AIDS pandemic.

For more information on HIV and AIDS statistics and information see The World Health Organization, The United Nations Aids Commission and The Stephen Lewis Foundation.

World AIDS Day

Universal Access and Human Rights is the theme for World AIDS Day 2009-2010.

World AIDS Day, 1 December, is one of the most recognised international health days and a key opportunity to raise further awareness in communities and across the world about the state of the pandemic, and critical next steps that must be taken to halt its spread.

WCPT congress learning materials

Recording of focused symposium - Physical therapy leadership in disability and HIV: sharing international perspectives