Devotion festival Parade - Wellington 1995 (Supplied)
Devotion festival Parade - Wellington 1995 (Supplied)
2 min read

Just as many former AIDS organisations across the globe have recently changed their names to become more inclusive of LGBTQ+ health and make their government funding models less reliant on HIV and AIDS figures which are continuing to decline, the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) has also changed its name to the Burnett Foundation Aotearoa.

The name honours the Foundation’s co-founder, pioneering AIDS activist Bruce Burnett who in the early 1980s, before widespread global panic about the epidemic had reached New Zealand, joined with a dedicated group of heroes and created a nationwide support organisation for those living with and affected by AIDS, and later HIV, which was still a mystery illness at the time.

Burnett dedicated the remainder of his life to the cause that changed the face of public health in New Zealand and undoubtedly saved many lives.


The last great act he was able to do for the response before passing away was to sign the document that secured the first round of government funding for what would soon become the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.

Speaking about the honour, Bruce’s sister Robyn Mihaere said Bruce was a pioneering campaigner, a beacon for like-minded people to join the cause, a change-maker, and ultimately a life-saver.

“It is hard to comprehend how brave he was to publicly reveal he was living with HIV at a time when those living with the disease were shunned and persecuted, and homosexuality, sex work and needle possession were all still illegal,” Mihaere said.

“I’m so proud to be his sister and to see him recognised in this way.

“More people need to know about the legacy of my incredible brother, so it’s only fitting that Burnett Foundation Aotearoa now carries his name, with pride to acknowledge and honour him always.”

Bruce Burnett (Supplied)
Bruce Burnett (Supplied)

The landscape of HIV and AIDS in New Zealand has changed significantly since NZAF was founded in 1985. Last month, new research released by Otago University underscored the success of our collective public health effort in responding to HIV and AIDS.

The data showed the number of those who acquired HIV in New Zealand continues to fall, with just 43 people in 2021 – the lowest figures since the 1990s. The number of AIDS diagnoses and AIDS-related deaths have also continued to remain very low.

Burnett Foundation Aotearoa Board Chair Sam Humphrey said the organisation listened to the communities they serve and changed the name to reflect their needs.

“One consistent message was that, with AIDS now being rare in Aotearoa thanks to effective HIV treatments, NZAF’s current name no longer reflects the particular challenges we face, or the services we need to provide,” Humphrey said.

Incoming Burnett Foundation Aotearoa Board Chair Sam Humphrey
Incoming Burnett Foundation Aotearoa Board Chair Sam Humphrey (Supplied)

“By relaunching as Burnett Foundation Aotearoa, our organisation is honouring its incredible legacy, while positioning itself to meet the evolving needs of people living with or affected by HIV now and into the future.

“The new name also empowers us to think creatively about what else the organisation might do in the future, in addition to and building on our achievements to date.”

Burnett Foundation Aotearoa retains the vision, mission, and principles of NZAF, and will play a key role in ending local HIV transmission by 2025.

Last Updated on Jun 9, 2022

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