This story should make me angry. I suppose it does, but I’m so numbed to the incredible pile of garbage people distribute in defense of their agenda that I have a harder time bringing forth an outburst than I’d like.
The United Nations’ top AIDS scientists plan to acknowledge this week that they have long overestimated both the size and the course of the epidemic, which they now believe has been slowing for nearly a decade, according to U.N. documents prepared for the announcement.
AIDS remains a devastating public health crisis in the most heavily affected areas of sub-Saharan Africa. But the far-reaching revisions amount to at least a partial acknowledgment of criticisms long leveled by outside researchers who disputed the U.N. portrayal of an ever-expanding global epidemic.
The latest estimates, due to be released publicly Tuesday, put the number of annual new HIV infections at 2.5 million, a cut of more than 40 percent from last year’s estimate, documents show. The worldwide total of people infected with HIV — estimated a year ago at nearly 40 million and rising — now will be reported as 33 million.
Having millions fewer people with a lethal contagious disease is good news. Some researchers, however, contend that persistent overestimates in the widely quoted U.N. reports have long skewed funding decisions and obscured potential lessons about how to slow the spread of HIV. Critics have also said that U.N. officials overstated the extent of the epidemic to help gather political and financial support for combating AIDS.
Good intentions are enough, remember. There is no need to worry about effectiveness, even in the reality of limited resources. There’s certainly no need to worry about uncomfortable details. If the method promotes what is good, it is worthwhile. Or so goes the logic of UNAIDS and the United Nations.
Of course HIV is terrible. Yes, we should work to promote effective strategies. But the desire to do good does not justify misrepresentation. We have to have this conversation? This doesn’t discredit, or at least render questionable, everything else the organization claims?
Remember this the next time someone from UNAIDS or the United Nations advocates male circumcision. It can’t even get the ethics of properly representing the problem correct. Who should trust them to get the ethics of genital cutting correct?
Just as frustrating, despite the clear indication that some renewed questioning is justified, the media is comfortable repeating the preferred story line:
Rates are lower in East Africa and much lower in West Africa. Researchers say that the prevalence of circumcision, which slows the spread of HIV, and regional variations in sexual behavior are the biggest factors determining the severity of the AIDS epidemic in different countries and even within countries.
The studies looked at voluntary, adult circumcision. That’s more accurate than a blanket statement about male circumcision. Isn’t the point of this report that details matter? Why ignore the most important scientific and ethical aspect of the recent studies in reporting them? (Unfortunately that’s rhetorical because I know the answer is about cognitive dissonance.)
To the point, researchers said that nearly 40 million people are infected with HIV. That’s not true. But we should believe them about circumcision without clarification on correlation and causation? Why? Statistics from the countries involved in the reporter’s claim are messier than advertised. (See here.) Also, it’s reasonable to assert that education had a far more effective benefit for all study participants than voluntary, adult circumcision had. (See here.)
Still, it’s supposed to be okay to take everything – lumped together without questioning – and trust that something will work if we try them all. I don’t particularly care about anyone pursuing that intellectually lazy path. People should have the right to make stupid decisions about their lives. But I demand that we follow all parameters involved when we make decisions for another. Particularly, voluntary and adult must never be forgotten.