The authors of a new book, AIDS in the 21st Century said AIDS is the first epidemic of globalization. They say the disease has spread, in part, by "the flagrant inequality that exists within and between societies."
Professor Tony Barnett said one of the clearest warnings he ever heard on the threat of HIV/AIDS came not from a scientist, doctor or government official, but from someone suffering from its impact.
"We begin this book with two words in the Ugandan language, Luganda. Those words are spoke by a very old lady, who had taken in her orphan grandchildren. She says, 'Abantu abaafa!' which neans 'People are dying, people are dying.' That was a call from the heart of Africa made 10 or 15 years ago and nobody listened," Professor Barnett said.
Mr. Barnett, a professor of development studies at the University of East Anglia in Britain, co-authored AIDS in the 21st Century with Alan Whiteside. Professor Whiteside is director of the health economics and HIV/AIDS research division at the University of Natal in South Africa.
Professor Whiteside said the warning signs about the impact of HIV/AIDS continue today. He said one is the declining life expectancy in many developing countries.
"If your life expectancy, and this is quite clearly stated in this book is 30 years or 45 years, you are not going to plan for the future. Because you do not believe you have a future. And if you do not believe you have a future then you are going to behave in a very different way than if you do think you are going to see your children grow up. You may even see your grandchildren," Mr. Whiteside said.
Professor Tony Barnett said HIV/AIDS is not just a health threat, but an attack on economies and security. "There are millions and millions of people who look outside their own impoverished societies and say, 'I want some of that.' And it is not just health they want. It is jobs. It is a future. They do not have a future. And what this epidemic shows us is that unless we actually look to that future for other people, there will be a threat to security," he said.
AIDS in the 21st Century calls for a redirection of resources. One example, fewer subsidies for farmers and more money for health care. The authors also called for the Bush administration to widen the debate on AIDS policy.
"In the United States of America, particularly with this government that is in power now, it is almost impossible to talk about health and its relation to inequality. And until that debate gets on the agenda of American mainstream politics, then there will be very little hope of this whole issue being taken up. This is an international problem. And for that reason it has to be heard in the United States of America," Mr. Barnett said.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has told the conference that no administration of any government has done more to fight the epidemic than the Bush Administration. He said the United States will spend $16 billion next year to fight HIV/AIDS and has contributed $500 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Professor Whiteside agrees, in part. "When your politicians say they have put a lot of money into AIDS research, they are telling the truth. It has gone in the wrong directions," he said.
He said much of the research money given by the U.S. government simply results in huge profits for pharmaceutical companies.
The authors said the lesson that needs to be learned at the beginning of the 21st century is that the world must wake up to the emergency of global public health. They write that health and well-being are human rights.
The professors, who began their book with an African phrase, end on one as well: "Ubuntu." They say it is an African philosophical concept meaning "we are only people because of other people." They say people only exist by caring for one another.