AIDS: We need more results, less glamour


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Today is World Aids Day. Is there anything new that can be said? I found the chapter on Aids in Bill Easterly's "White Man's Burden" insightful. He criticizes the aid industry for being too focused on treatment, which is expensive but makes for good press. Because prevention is less glamorous it has received relatively less attention.

In contrast, private companies - which are spending their own money - focus heavily on prevention in their employee health programs. This came through loud and clear at an IFC Against AIDS conference I attended in Johannesburg recently, where companies shared experiences about their HIV/Aids programs. Clifford Barnett, joint managing director of Cape Town's SA Metal, has been quoted as saying:

In business, you try not to have surprises. By employing an HIV prevention program, we don't have surprises like suddenly finding out that we've got 20 people who are HIV positive, and they are going off work and not coming back.

Similarly in India several IFC-supported companies are proactively addressing AIDS primarily through prevention. The role played by private companies in providing funding and management capacity to deliver AIDS prevention programs to their workers and the communities in which they live hasn't received enough attention.


Laurence Carter

Senior Director, Public-Private Partnerships Group

Join the Conversation

December 01, 2006

The World AIDS Campaign Theme says: 'Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise'. Well, there are promises and promises to keep! These promises are made at every meeting, advocacy, event related to HIV/AIDS. If only half could be kept... the nature of the epidemic would have been different in the developing countries.

Talking about the private sector companies, in India they (some of them) are slowly waking up to the call for action aganist HIV/AIDS. While one off events on HIV/AIDS have been done in the past also by the private sector but now some companies seem to be understanding the importance of ownership and sustainability of the workplace HIV/AIDS programme. Though still theres a long way to go.

The International Labour Organization in India is also reaching out to the employers' organizations and the corporate sector in helping them develop and implement their own HIV/AIDS workplace policy and programme.

Its a modest beginning but lets hope that more and more of the private sector gets into action.

Don Robertson
December 02, 2006

Apart from having read this article through, I also just read an article that claimed the 1917 Flu pandemic was unintentionally created by the U.S. Army when it was conducting experiments in biological warfare. The article had some credibility to it, but it was not in the main stream of news, far from it.

I write philosophy, and I know where the urge to heal the sick comes from, it's a sense of morality best described by two philosophic movements, Utilitarianism and the daughter of Utilitarianism, Humanism. These are good moral instincts, which if the world was much simpler than it really is, we could live by.

As the world is much more complicated than loving children, puppy dogs, apple pie, and wanting to cure all disease will ever allow any cure to all our ills, and though it's a decent moral start, we have to face the fact that medicine is dangerous in either the hands of biological warfare experimenters or your run-of-the-mill multi-billion-dollar-publicly-funded cancer, AIDS, or stem research center.

While I'm quite sure the vast majority of doctors and researchers are fully aware of these dangers, I doubt if any of them has thoroughly considered the moral implications of the gambles they take daily in what they are doing.

I have issued an ethical challenge to these professionals here:

It's been viewed enough times I know medical workers are reading it, but I've yet to receive a single response to the challenge.

So, I come here to keep the pressure on, for if we cure AIDS and unleash something worse in the process, or if we unleash it without curing AIDS, or if we unleash something that could kill everyone, we haven't accomplished anything very moral, have we?

The article does have nice intinctive moral sentiments, but I believe they might be just a bit undeveloped morally speaking.

The moral imperative of life is to live a life that detracts not at all from the lives available to those who will follow us into this world.

This relatively new moral imperative is something we all should be thinking about right along with the AIDS pandemic daily.

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher

Limestone, Maine

Michael Saunby
December 03, 2006

A focus on improving the everyday isn't glamorous, but is probably the focus of most people's everyday life.

Businesses behave somewhat differently. Certainly in my own field - weather forecasting - more could be done to ensure that more benefit results from the everyday use of information, e.g. helping farmers improve yields through better timing of activities. Instead the more dramatic stuff dominates both for producers and consumers of information, e.g. climate change, storm warnings, etc. But these things aren't particularly driven by aid agendas, just by normal short termism and pessimism.

BTW. Don has in my view "lost it" - "The use of antibiotics has undeniably created superbugs that have killed many millions of people." is patently untrue. As with almost all widely adopted medical innovations (and argicultural ones) the outcome is invariably more people, living longer. He could argue that millions have died in automobile accidents and probably be right, but so what? Philosophers eh, what would we do without them?