Ignorance can kill

The United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has announced that almost 4 billion dollars have been promised for the years 2006-2007 during the Conference held by the donor countries, celebrated in London. These promises held by 29 countries represent more than half of the 7 billion that were estimated for that period. With this good news, we must remind politicians that they should drop morals if they want to beat AIDS.
Almost 40 million people in the world live with the disease and each year, 5 million become infected and more than 3 million die. Itís an authentic epidemic that can be faced with medical treatment to convert it into a chronic pain, hoping for the development of an efficient treatment such as a vaccine and with preventive measures to avoid its spread. But AIDS does not respect any moral grounds: it attacks the newly born, the orphans of the affected, those who became infected through a needle and the patients of other diseases during the transfusion of contaminated blood. It also attacks the loyal couple of the disloyal spouse.
As long as the vaccine is not found, condoms continue to be the most efficient measure to avoid contagion through sexual encounter. To publicly support abstinence as the only efficient measure is authentically immoral. And a fantasy.  Those impoverished countries that have stopped contagionís progression (Brazil, Thailand, Uganda and Cambodia) obtained those results by changing peopleís behavior: they did not ask people to stick to moral precepts but rather that they adopted efficient measures in their own interest and on the communityís.
But already twenty years have passed with millions of dollars invested to fight the disease without being able to beat it. But while we wait for the vaccine that will allow a safer control, it would be convenient to promote coherent, pragmatic and realistic prevention policies. Thatís why we have to start with the elimination of acquired prejudice and false ideas that circulate in a dangerous way.
First of all, it is false that the world has taken conscience of the gravity of this disease. NGOís have asked for funds without cease to fight against the virus. Only some years ago have those funds started to arrive: in 2003, the funds destined to combat the disease in developing countries reached 4.7 billion dollars. In 2002, the United Nations created the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, which will distribute this year close to 2 billion dollars, while the World Bank used one billion to fight the disease in Africa and the US government announced a project of 15 billion dollars for prevention programs, aid for AIDSí orphans and to assist the retroviral treatment in the 14 most affected countries.
Such sum would have stopped the disease in 1996. In 2005, it is not enough, despite of the fact that the expenses are 15 times as large as in 1996. UNAIDS, UNís programs against HIV/AIDS, estimates 12 billion dollars for the needs of developing countries only for this year. Thus it is false that the world has become conscious of the problemís gravity.
The problem canít be reduced to the lack of money, but rather to the absence of medical and sanitary personnel in developing countries for them to administrate their retroviral material. Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, only counts on two doctors and two nurses to treat 2000 diseased people while the United States counts on 15 sanitary personnel for the same number of people. In Malawi, there is only one nurse for every 4,000 people. The problem is not only that rich countries donít want to donate money for African doctors to stay in rural areas or to solve nurseís poverty, but also that, especially in the English-speaking countries; they realize an authentic robbery of doctors and nurses. Three quarters of Ghanaís medical personnel emigrate to Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States. Only 360 out of the 1,200 trained doctors in Zimbabwe who were trained in the 90ís work there these days. Itís an authentic act of ignorance and a nameless hypocrisy to see that the South African Medical Journal multiplies illustrated publicity motivating African professionals to do their profession in rural Canada because they will have more means. Only an accelerated training of the sanitary personnel and an aid to improve working conditions of doctors in the African rural atmospheres will result in an authentic brake to the expansion of the disease. But there are other established ideas and prejudice that we must dismantle. Our life depends on it and not only on the economic means. Ignorance can be mortal.

Josť Carlos Gª Fajardo

Este artículo fue publicado en el Centro de Colaboraciones Solidarias (CCS) el 4/5/2006