Antibody Politics: The Treatment of Incurable HIV/Aids Patients in the Developing World Takes Too Big a Slice of a Limited Budget When Money Could Be Better Spent on Protecting People from Both HIV and Other Preventable Fatal Diseases

By Cassell, Merrill | Financial Management (UK), March 2008 | Go to article overview

Antibody Politics: The Treatment of Incurable HIV/Aids Patients in the Developing World Takes Too Big a Slice of a Limited Budget When Money Could Be Better Spent on Protecting People from Both HIV and Other Preventable Fatal Diseases


Cassell, Merrill, Financial Management (UK)


The black death is thought to have killed more than 75 million people, eliminating a third of Europe's population in the space of two years. Six and a half centuries later, it's estimated that Aids has accounted for 32 million deaths and that over 40 million people today are infected with HIV.

This modern-day pandemic is, of course, concentrated in the developing world. Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest-hit region, but parts of Asia and Latin America are also facing severe epidemics. Eastern Europe and central Asia are experiencing the fastest rates of infection.

No disease receives greater political attention. There is tremendous pressure on governments to increase spending on HIV/ Aids research and treatment. For some developing nations, particularly in Africa, funding the fight is an acute problem. They can't afford to spend the 5,000 [pounds sterling] a year per patient on the types of drug cocktails favoured in industrialised countries, or even 75 [pounds sterling] to 250 [pounds sterling] a year for cheaper generic medicines. The west pitches in with financial aid to help these poor countries tackle the crisis, therefore, but at a terrible social cost.

Two-and-a-half times more Africans die from other preventable diseases--including measles, malaria and tuberculosis--as they do from contracting HIV. In 2002 the global death toll from these other causes was 15.6 million, as opposed to 2.8 million fatalities from Aids. Some of the diseases are preventable for as little as 50p per head a year. Although the treatment of one patient with HIV/Aids can cost thousands of pounds a year, the World Health Organisation estimates that the added life expectancy of a patient on modern anti-retroviral treatments is about four years. Less effort is expended on Aids prevention than on treating the disease, according to William Easterly in his book The White Man's Burden (CUP/Penguin Press 2006). As more money is spent on Aids treatment, less is left for preventing these other "low-cost" killers. In effect, to prolong the life of one HIV/Aids patient in Africa for a year, we sacrifice an extension of between seven and 60 years' life to about five other people. The key issue here is that several million people are dying of Aids every year, but several more are dying of other preventable diseases because too many resources are being used to treat HIV-positive patients.

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HIV/Aids receives more political attention and funding than any other disease, despite the fact that 1.1 billion people worldwide don't even have access to safe water. In a sense, then, compassion for Aids sufferers is costing more lives in other areas. As Easterly argues, what should matter is "what helps the poor the most, not what sells politically in rich countries".

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Antibody Politics: The Treatment of Incurable HIV/Aids Patients in the Developing World Takes Too Big a Slice of a Limited Budget When Money Could Be Better Spent on Protecting People from Both HIV and Other Preventable Fatal Diseases
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