I rushed to buy the June 4th Economist with the tantalizing title, “The End of AIDS?”, hoping to learn about a significant breakthrough in the HIV/AIDS field. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Clearly the editors were looking for some hook to mark the 30th anniversary of the discovery of HIV/AIDS, because even suggesting “the End” represents a bad case of editorial hyperbole.
I’ll tell you what really gets to me about the piece, it yet again puts responsibility for this so-called “End” squarely on the shoulders of Western scientists and donors. Apparently these saviours must stump for the 25 billion dollars that it would take to roll out treatment across the continent. As far as I can tell, African governments and citizens need only sit back and wait for the Western cavalry to save them from a disease that is, by the way, completely preventable.
The article makes the case for treatment as the critical factor in prevention, by breaking the chain of new infections. Which is truly exciting. And I get that after close to thirty years of moderately successful prevention exercises across Africa, the powers-that-be are now looking for a scientific silver bullet. But have we so given up on the notion that by making some fairly simple behavioural choices, Africans can and should play a key role in ending this pandemic? Particularly in an era where donor funds are drying up. And can you really blame the donors? How much more money should the world spend on saving Africans from themselves?
“If AIDS is defeated, it will be thanks to an alliance of science, activism, and altruism.” Let me add another “A”… how about “acknowledgement”. Finally. Among Africans. Acknowledgement that HIV/AIDS is their plague. And it will likely only “end” when their leaders and ordinary citizens alike, truly accept that.