Prevention, Not Drugs, Will Aid Asia’s AIDS Crisis, Op-Ed Says
With pharmaceutical companies offering "sharply reduced" prices on antiretroviral drugs, the "prospect of a 'quick fix' for existing HIV cases is threatening to take the spotlight off the single most important factor in curbing the spread of the killer disease in Asia -- prevention," Hanoi-based writer George Russell says in an Asian Wall Street Journal op-ed. However, most Asian governments are "still in the early stages of coming to terms with" the epidemic, he writes. Prevention efforts in Asia must be "a lot more complex" than American efforts because they face a "daunting meld" of ethnic prejudice, poverty, illiteracy, "poor" communication, "machismo" and gender inequality, apathy and "stoicism," Russell writes. Religious groups and even governments have put forth "enormous resistance" to prevention campaigns, he continues. However, "[e]ducation can help break through these problems," he writes, adding that "leadership has to be muscular, even defiant," in order to succeed. But the arrival of discounted antiretroviral drugs threatens to make the situation in Asia "even more complicated" by pushing prevention efforts to the "wayside," he writes. The "shift" toward bulk drug purchases by governments could "significantly alter the focus" of national health care budgets, Russell continues. But because of the relative poverty of many Asian nations, enough drugs may not be able to be purchased for the number of infected individuals, thus "undermin[ing] prevention efforts without being able to achieve widespread [drug] distribution," he writes. The availability and efficacy of antiretroviral medications has "pushed prevention programs out of the spotlight" in the West, and "unfortunately, to the backburner" in some places. New studies are pointing toward an "alarming trend back toward risky behavior" in the United States. "Prevention -- through adequate education and awareness programs -- can help Asia avoid making the same mistakes and save lives," Russell concludes (Russell, Asian Wall Street Journal, 4/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.