Wednesday, March 31, 2010
According to Dr Marcos Espinal of the Stop TB Partnership, "TB is not a medical problem. It is a development issue. It is an economic problem. It's a human rights situation." And I applaud him for saying this. If developing countries are not allowed to develop (and I would argue that developed countries are doing all in their power to stop them from developing), diseases like TB will not successfully be treated by drugs alone. People in developing countries are poor, they suffer bad health, they receive little or no education, they live in terrible conditions and their human rights are being denied. It is no wonder that TB and many other diseases are rife and increasing.
I would add that HIV, also, is not just a medical problem, nor is it just a matter of sexual behaviour. Parallel arguments could be used to show that, so far, both HIV and TB programmes have failed to prevent the spread of the diseases and will continue to do so. If you don't deal with the conditions that result in diseases spreading, all diseases, you will not eradicate the diseases. After using little more than expensive pharmaceutical products to treat TB for many years, an estimated 440,000 people are now resistant to commonly used TB drugs. I have not been able to find estimates for the number of people with HIV strains that are resistant to first line drugs commonly used in developing countries, but resistance is a very serious threat.
There's an interesting article on the website of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). They have been publishing the Human Development Report for many years now and they are about to reveal some of the main trends over the past four decades. The Human Development Report measures development by criteria other than just economic, such as health, gender, education and other things. This article notes that there has been significant progress in development, but this has come from improvements in education and health, not economics.
It also notes that these improvements have little or nothing to do with globalization. Rather, they have been achieved by expansion of "educational and health systems, coupled by initiatives of the international community to enable access to vaccines and antibiotics." In other words, state intervention.
The research finds that there is no correlation between economic growth and changes in non-income components of human development. It concludes that "the oft-repeated dictum that growth is a necessary condition for increasing human development is simply not true."
So the approach to development and human rights related problem, such as HIV or TB, is to improve education, health, economic circumstances, gender imbalances, employment, infrastructure and many other things. The approach should not be to set up well financed vertical programmes that target single diseases or narrow issues at the expense of other, broader issues.
Throwing eye watering sums of money at a problem, such as HIV or TB, will not even solve the problems of HIV or TB. Especially if most of the money is spent on technologies that are produced in rich countries. That's just taking money out of one pocket and slipping most of it into another. It's time for new thinking on development. Development is not just one thing, it's many things. And if you don't know enough about any of them, just read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and consider how many of those rights people in developing countries are currently being denied.