Friday, December 4, 2009

Foundations for HIV Prevention

I rarely come across articles criticizing HIV prevention programmes for their lack of success, but apparently a contributor to the Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance conference this year draws attention to the fact that many 'prevention' interventions were implemented without ever being tried. He may have gone on to say that ones that were tried and found to be useless continue to attract most prevention funding, but I wasn't at the conference.

Professor Geoff Setswe is right that HIV took some time to be recognised and had already infected many people before the most appropriate methods of preventing its spread had been investigated. But more than 25 years later, prevention programmes continue to be rolled out that are untested or that are tested but found to have little or no benefit. But no one is counting bodies when there is money to be made.

It's easy to blame health and other social problems on the global economic crisis now, but that wasn't the problem just over a year ago. In Kenya, since the 1980s, one excuse after another has been blamed on the lack of progress in education, health and other areas. If it wasn't economic, it was oil or food or political or environmental and if it wasn't a crisis it was a disaster. The HIV pandemic itself is just one of those many 'disasters' or 'crises'.

But poor health in Kenya is not a disaster, nor is it a short term crisis. Health services have been reduced in Kenya at least since the early 1980s, when the Moi government depended on loans from international financial institutions to prop up his form of democracy. These institutions funded him in return for his agreement to cut spending on social services and the public sector in general. It seems unlikely he or his colleagues (who overlap considerably with the present administration) were particularly worried about the idea of reducing public spending.

Health service spending in Kenya is now minimal (as are spending on education and other social services). Health infrastructure needs to be built from the ground up, more or less. Most people don't go to hospitals or clinics and many who do fare worse than they would have if they had stayed at home. It's little wonder that HIV was transmitted rapidly in Kenya during the 1980s and continues to spread today, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the disease. There are still far more people being newly infected than receiving treatment, though a lot more money is spent on treatment.

Fine, Professor Setswe, clinical trials are not always appropriate for testing social and behavioural interventions. But are clinical trials needed to show that starving people need food, that those suffering from malnutrition need proper nourishment, that poor people need support, that sick people, whatever they are suffering from, need medical attention, that those without adequate supplies of water die of thirst or water borne diseases? And the list goes on. Those who pigheadedly continue to talk about how difficult HIV is to prevent seem to be uninterested in what those in high HIV prevalence countries really suffer from.

HIV is a real disease. Those suffering from it need treatment and care. Those who are in danger of becoming infected need to be protected from it or to be enabled to protect themselves from it. But most people will get up in the morning and have food, water, work, school fees, day to day health and many other things on their minds. And in all the time that HIV has been around, these other concerns have been largely deprived of attention and funding.

Finally, mass male circumcision is mentioned as a possible HIV prevention method that is supported by a lot of evidence but has been held up for various reasons. Perhaps one of the reasons that circumcision has been held up is because health services in Kenya and other countries who were tricked by those same international financial institutions have been reduced to the extent that it is not possible to roll out any kind of mass health programme. Some of the HIV programmes that were rolled out failed because infrastructure, education, health and many other areas have been so underfunded for so long.

The same article mentions a Dr Ntanganira, who says that "We know what works". But the article doesn't say what works, unfortunately.


1 comment:

Sharon said...


1 in 4 sexually active teenagers become infected with an STD every year, in the United States alone. Now, more than ever, we need to join together to fight this growing issue. As I read through your website, it is clear that you share the same passion for STD/STI awareness. We here, at, understand the importance of STD/STI prevention and treatments. If you could, please list us as a resource or host our social book mark button, it would be much appreciated. We can not reach every teenager, but together we can try.
If you need more information please email me with the sublect line as your URL.

Thank you,
Sharon Vegoe