AIDS Funding Wasted, As Usual

It turns out that the billions of dollars that have been spent on international AIDS programs have largely been wasted. In some places, like Botswana, AIDS programs have actually backfired, increasing child death rates. As a result, experts are now advising “devoting more of the world’s $10 billion annual AIDS spending to proven, lower-tech strategies against HIV, such as circumcising men, promoting sexual monogamy and making birth control more easily available to infected women.”

Earlier news reports showed AIDS rates finally falling in Zimbabwe, where the economy has collapsed and AIDS programs are scarce, because men became too poor to have mistresses and engage in promiscuity. By contrast, in other countries, like Swaziland, AIDS continues to spread at an astronomical rate because many men still have enough money to have mistresses on the side, and AIDS programs keep people infected with AIDS healthy enough to keep having sex and fooling around.

While focusing on AIDS, taxpayer-funded international relief agencies have failed to focus on other big killers like malaria and drug-resistant tuberculosis, diseases that aren’t as fashionable as AIDS, even though malaria kills millions of people every year. (Rich liberals in America and elsewhere in the West don’t get malaria, but they can get AIDS if they use needles or engage in promiscuous sex without protection).

In the United States, the government has spent billions on AIDS. AIDS kills vastly fewer Americans than other major killers like lung cancer and heart disease, but vastly more is spent on AIDS research, per fatality, than on those other diseases. And taxpayer-funded services are available to AIDS sufferers that are not available to those who suffer from other diseases, a medical form of affirmative action. Especially on a per-fatality basis, taxpayer spending on AIDS is much higher than almost any other disease.

It is also likely to yield results much more slowly, since AIDS is a retrovirus. It is a “difficult target in part because it hijacks the immune system, turning the body’s own defense mechanisms against it. Then the virus mutates so quickly that a tactic that works one week might be obsolete the next.”

Richard Posner, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit — the most famous and oft-cited federal appellate judge, the author of 30 books and more than 1500 judicial opinions, and not a social conservative — has argued that generous AIDS spending on those who already have the disease has actually contributed to the spread of AIDS, by reducing the costs of the disease to individual carriers and thus inhibiting people from using protection and engaging in self-restraint. The phenomenon of “bug chasers,” lamented by nationally-syndicated sex columnists like Dan Savage, is a classic example.

One effective way of cutting the AIDS transmission rate might be to adopt Savage’s recommendation that people who infect their unknowing partners with AIDS make an “AIDS-support” payment. After all, noncustodial parents have to make child support payments for their children. That would provide a disincentive to give other people AIDS.