Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:28 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:28 | SYDNEY

UNAIDS should be commended, not scolded


Bill Bowtell

21 November 2007 16:21

UNAIDS has published revised estimates of the size of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. The new UNAIDS figures for 2007 put the number of annual new HIV infections at 2.5 million, a reduction of more than 40% from last year’s estimate. The worldwide total of people infected with HIV is now reported as 33 million, rather than last year’s estimate of approximately 40 million. These revisions stem from improved methodologies to measure the spread of the pandemic, especially in India and China.

Foreshadowing the UNAIDS report, the Washington Post on 19 November quoted the American author Helen Epstein as saying that the revision was evidence of a link between UNAIDS’  'alarmism' about the pandemic and its 'fundraising agenda'. Such comments yet again demonstrate the tedious politicisation of HIV/AIDS in the US. For over two decades, this increasingly puerile 'debate' has greatly disfigured and impeded a rational response to the pandemic. UNAIDS is to be congratulated, not criticized, for its continuing application of rigorous scientific method and principles to such an extraordinarily complex phenomenon.

As the old business school maxim has it – if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. This reduction in UNAIDS figures means we can, if we wish, further recalibrate the balance of resources between the demands of care and treatment on the one hand, and effective prevention strategies on the other. Far more time, energy and money needs to be devoted to effective prevention measures, especially now that the pandemic in India and China is not as large as previously estimated.

It would be delightful if we could abolish HIV/AIDS by deleting or amending figures on a spreadsheet. But in the real world,  the best news from the downwards revision of the UNAIDS figures is that we gain valuable time to rethink, refine and redirect current HIV/AIDS management strategies and relative resource allocations.