Friday, November 24, 2006

AIDS - Good in parts

The latest UN report suggests hope about AIDS is not entirely misplaced

“YOU can do it if you try.” That is the message which UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation, the United Nations bodies charged with combating HIV, are pushing in their latest report on the state of the epidemic.

The report itself is a work of dry epidemiology. It gives a snapshot of the current state of knowledge about how and why the virus is spreading or regressing in various parts of the world. It looks at transmission paths. It looks at the different risks attaching to a number of vulnerable groups (heterosexual youngsters, homosexual men, prostitutes and recreational drug users who inject their pleasures rather than smoking or swallowing them). And it looks at whether particular public-health measures are effective or not.

But, dry and scientific though it may be, the report is also a platform for propaganda. December 1st is World AIDS Day, and the gurus of global health would like you to notice certain parts of the report and be appropriately concerned. Crafting just the right level of concern requires a delicacy of touch. Too optimistic, and the world might dust its hands together and say “job done”. Too pessimistic and it might simply turn its back on a problem it sees as insoluble. This year, the mixture seems spot on.

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