Commentary & Opinion
Washington Post Publishes Letters to Editor About UNAIDS HIV Prevalence Estimates
April 18, 2006
The Washington Post on Saturday published two letters to the editor in response to a recent Post article about how UNAIDS might have overestimated HIV prevalence in some African countries over the last several years, as well as a Post editorial saying that recent findings should "prompt a re-opening" of the debate over whether HIV/AIDS is "overfunded" compared with other diseases, such as malaria. Summaries of the letters appear below.
- Pamela Barnes: Although the Post article, as well as a recent Lancet study finding a decline in HIV prevalence among young people in India, "might lead readers to believe that the world can breathe a sigh of relief about the HIV/AIDS pandemic," the disease "continues its widespread devastation," Barnes, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, writes. HIV/AIDS "rages disproportionately among women of reproductive age," and both the Post article and Lancet study "acknowledg[e] that HIV rates are sometimes four times as high among pregnant women than in the general population," according to Barnes. Less than 10% of the "millions of women worldwide who become pregnant each year have access to HIV testing" and drugs to prevent vertical HIV transmission, Barnes writes, adding that a recent study from the U.S. government finds that programs aimed at preventing vertical transmission are "being shortchanged." She concludes, "AIDS continues to be a monumental catastrophe for all of us" (Barnes, Washington Post, 4/15).
- Peter Piot and Anarfi Asamoa-Baah: Although UNAIDS and the World Health Organization "have been working with countries and experts to generate data to strengthen the AIDS response," figures "cannot be obtained directly" because "most people do not know their HIV status" and there is "no single source of data," UNAIDS Executive Director Piot and Asamoa-Baah, assistant director-general of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for WHO, write. A "realistic picture of the epidemic in any given country" can be acquired only "by analyzing various surveys," Piot and Asamoa-Baah write. Although "each source of data has strengths and weaknesses," UNAIDS and WHO "are confident that [their] estimates are the best available, and [they] are committed to improving the methods used," according to the authors. In addition, "[c]omprehensive prevention efforts, integrated with treatment programs, must reach those at highest risk of infection," Piot and Asamoa-Baah write, concluding that "[c]omparing the disadvantages of providing treatment to a person with AIDS with treating someone suffering from malaria creates a dangerous dichotomy" because "[b]oth deserve treatment, without any tradeoffs" (Piot/Asamoa-Baah, Washington Post, 4/15).
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