Foreign Policy

Too Much Money for AIDS

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Here is something you don't see every day: an AIDS researcher calling for less spending on AIDS. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Daniel Halperin, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, suggests that politicians who criticize President Bush for seeking "only" $30 billion over five years to fight AIDS don't know what they're talking about:

Even the current $15 billion in spending represents an unprecedented amount of money aimed mainly at a single disease.

Meanwhile, many other public health needs in developing countries are being ignored.

Halperin argues that more lives could be saved by reallocating money earmarked for AIDS to less fashionable causes, such as prevention and treatment of the diarrheal diseases that are a major cause of mortality in Africa. The "rigid focus on AIDS," he says, has led to a deadly waste of resources:

This year [Botswana] will receive about $300 million to fight AIDS—in addition to the hundreds of millions already granted by drug companies, private foundations and other donors. While in that sparsely populated country last month, I learned that much of its AIDS money remains unspent, as even its state-of-the-art H.I.V. clinics cannot absorb such a large influx of cash.

As the United States Agency for International Development's H.I.V. prevention adviser in southern Africa in 2005 and 2006, I visited villages in poor countries like Lesotho, where clinics could not afford to stock basic medicines but often maintained an inventory of expensive AIDS drugs and sophisticated monitoring equipment for their H.I.V. patients. H.I.V.-infected children are offered exemplary treatment, while children suffering from much simpler-to-treat diseases are left untreated, sometimes to die.