United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has hit out at 12 countries that bar entry to people who are HIV-positive. The US, Russia and South Korea are the three developed countries that try to prevent HIV-positive individuals from crossing their borders.
“I call for a change in laws that uphold stigma and discrimination, including restrictions on travel for people living with HIV. It is shocking that there should still be discrimination against those at high risk, such as men who have sex with men, or stigma attached to individuals living with HIV,” said Ban in a speech he gave on 11 June, at a special meeting of the UN general assembly.
The head of the UN was quite correctly stressing how AIDS can be a human rights issue. Similar discrimination is often practised within countries and in workplaces. But he also added that there was a development imperative as well. He said halting and reversing the spread of AIDS is not just an end in itself; it is also a key part of any strategy to attack poverty.
Is that really so? Several recent studies suggest that the AIDS threat was overestimated in the early 1990s, when there were fears that countries such as Russia, China and India would be down on their knees because of the rapid spread of the virus. But the UN admitted in December that it had overestimated the threat, especially in India, because of faulty survey methods. The Independent newspaper in the UK quotes Kevin de Cock, head of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, saying: “It is very unlikely there will be a heterosexual epidemic” in countries outside Africa.
The AIDS debate is far from settled. Africa continues to be afflicted. We still do not know enough about India, Russia and China. But development policy can be less concerned about it than before. In a new report, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre has published the results of an attempt by eight prominent economists to recommend how the world should spend money on key social challenges, from health to global warming. In other words, how can we get more bang for the buck?
Spending money fighting AIDS comes in at No. 19, in a list of 30 spending opportunities. That tells us a lot.
(Is AIDS less of a threat? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)