Monday, September 19, 2011
When environmentalist reactionaries like Bjorn Lomborg use words such as 'rethink', I become suspicious. For him, rethinking climate change was to sell consultancy to some of the biggest contributors to global warming. So when he uses the word in relation to the subject of HIV, please be aware that he is probably lying, but for good money, of course.
Firstly, Lomborg claims that "Alongside [various technical] advances, policymakers, human-rights advocates, and people living with HIV/AIDS have fought hard to reduce stigma and discrimination." This is not quite true. Some groups have fought to reduce stigma and discrimination. Others have fought hard to appear to fight them, while busily ensuring that both phenomena spread and grow faster than the virus itself.
Among those working hard to spread stigma and discrimination are UNAIDS, who never miss an opportunity to point to 'African' sexual behavior as the explanation for all the most serious HIV epidemics in the world. While ranting about how terrible stigma is, they deny the significance of any modes of transmission aside from heterosexual sex in African countries, though not in non-African countries.
Following in their footsteps are the media, who love an opportunity to write about sex, especially sex that they can paint as deviant or 'other'. Nudge, nudge, it's Africans, we all know about their sex lives, don't we. Religious and political leaders have never been far behind when it comes to sticking the knife in. Sadly, most African leaders have shown little enthusiasm for questioning the orthodoxy either.
Lomborg is also wrong about the "unprecedented amount of funds [being] invested in HIV treatment and prevention." Relatively small amounts of money have been invested in HIV prevention and most of that was frittered away on finger-wagging exercises about Africans' assumed sexual behavior. Treatment, on the other hand, is worth a lot of money. That's why a lot has been spent on it; but the bulk of that has gone into the pockets of Western multinationals, particularly pharmaceutical companies.
Lomborg's pronouncements on HIV are self-serving, much like his pronounements on the environment. And while he may be an expert on the environment, he is not an expert on HIV or any subject he happens to get paid for pontificating about. Yet his "Copenhagen Concensus Center" is going to get a lot of other like-minded academics and 'experts' to 'solve' some of the worst global problems that we currently face.
One of these global problems is HIV, which Lomborg is going to sort out by getting together five economists. Given how badly the global fight against HIV is going up to now, it probably wouldn't matter whether the experts were economists or basket weavers, but economists don't exactly have a great reputation for sorting out economic problems, let alone viral pandemics.
Lomborg's RethinkHIV could be better named because it's a lot more about regurgitating platitudes, recycling 'learned pronouncements' and, more to the point, trying to ensure that the billions that have poured into the pockets of wealthy institutions continues to increase. You'll notice that the only thing bold about the website is the typeface.
They have even partnered with a charitable body called the Rush Foundation, which funds 'disruptive ideas against HIV'. Even their buzzword sounds like something that died in the 1990s. But despite all the rhetoric about "stimulating urgent policy debate outside the existing frameworks and push[ing] thought leaders to think the unthinkable to address the pandemic", their only idea is to produce more drugs (just like Bill Gates and his foundation).
Here's a bit of a 'disruptive' idea for Lomborg and his friends: HIV transmission in African countries is not just about sexual behavior, so check out some of the other modes of transmission. If you really want to end HIV related stigma, try to think of Africans as humans, especially when it comes to sexual behavior. And don't listen to UNAIDS; they haven't a clue. Heterosexual sex does not fully explain the massive HIV epidemics found in some African countries; but non-sexual transmission might help to do so.
Rethinking HIV means challenging the orthodoxy, not compounding it with more of the same. So if there is any thinking to be done, some of the most vocal exponents of the orthodoxy need to be replaced by people who still know how to articulate disagreement with the mainstream, regardless of their discipline. Somehow, I don't think Lomborg or the cronies he selects will fall into this category, Nobel prizes notwithstanding.