Abstract Background Only governments sensitive to the demands of their citizens appropriately respond to needs of their nation. Based on Professor Amartya Sen's analysis of the link between famine and democracy, the following null hypothesis was tested: "Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevalence is not associated with governance". Methods Governance has been divided by a recent World Bank paper into six dimensions. These include Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law and the Control of Corruption. The 2002 adult HIV prevalence estimates were obtained from UNAIDS. Additional health and economic variables were collected from multiple sources to illustrate the development needs of countries. Results The null hypothesis was rejected for each dimension of governance for all 149 countries with UNAIDS HIV prevalence estimates. When these nations were divided into three groups, the median (range) HIV prevalence estimates remained constant at 0.7% (0.05 – 33.7%) and 0.75% (0.05% – 33.4%) for the lower and middle mean governance groups respectively despite improvements in other health and economic indices. The median HIV prevalence estimates in the higher mean governance group was 0.2% (0.05 – 38.8%). Conclusion HIV prevalence is significantly associated with poor governance. International public health programs need to address societal structures in order to create strong foundations upon which effective healthcare interventions can be implemented.