Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:41 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:41 | SYDNEY

In defence of UNAIDS


Bill Bowtell

11 December 2009 09:07

In yesterday's Australian, Philip Stevens argued against the creation of a new UN agency for climate change on the grounds that, in 1996, the UN created a special agency — UNAIDS — to deal with 'another apparently global crisis - AIDS'.

Stevens asserts that UNAIDS 'distorted the science' of AIDS to predict a 'devastating heterosexual pandemic all over the world' but that there was 'never any prospect of a heterosexual pandemic outside southern Africa'. He claims that the 'scary headlines' generated by UNAIDS advocacy increased global funding for AIDS from $US1billion in 2000 to $US13.7billion last year.

Stevens thus adds UNAIDS and the global response to HIV/AIDS to the long and growing list of climate change consipirators. But in doing so, he completely misrepresents the facts about the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The 'apparent' global HIV/AIDS pandemic seems big enough to the 25 million people killed by AIDS since 1982 and the 35 million who currently live with HIV infection. Philips might care to chat about his definition of 'crisis' to the relatives of the 2 million people who died from AIDS and the 2.7 million who acquired HIV in 2008, most who will never obtain the treatment they need to stay alive.

Wherever in the world HIV caseloads are rising, the drivers of transmission are heterosexual sex and sharing of injecting equipment. The burgeoning HIV pandemic in Papua New Guinea (at least 50,000 cases and rising fast) is almost exclusively a heterosexual pandemic.

The scientific evidence about HIV and how it spreads was generated by hundreds of institutions and laboratories and thousands of researchers and scientists. It was not created (or falsified) by UNAIDS, which is not a scientific research institution.

As for increasing funding, Stevens is entirely right. UNAIDS, and its sister organisation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, were created to overcome the disastrous HIV/AIDS response engineered by the Reagan Administration in the US, which based its denialist approach to HIV/AIDS on fear and faith, rather than fact and evidence.

Thankfully, the massive increase in funding that followed the formation of UNAIDS and the Global Fund has begun to mitigate the worst-case forecasts for the global pandemic. Stevens fails utterly to grasp the essential point that an increase in spending on prevention will, if applied prudently and effectively, leads to a mitigation of the worst-case outcomes.

The global response to HIV/AIDS is an excellent model that should inform the climate change debate.

Photo by Flick user Auntie P, used under a Creative Commons license.