Don’t forget about HIV and AIDS

Stephen Lewis argues that the international aid pie needs to get bigger when faced with new and emerging crisis.

In the tragic saga of Ebola, there have been, thus far, more than fifteen thousand cases and more than five thousand deaths. It’s a death rate approximating 35 per cent.

The death rate from HIV and AIDS is 50 per cent.

In the most recent period for which HIV data is available – in 2013, UNAIDS reports that there were 2.1 million new infections and 1.5 million deaths.

Under no circumstances can one depreciate Ebola. It is a terrifying, hideous infectious disease that causes death and panic in equal measure.

The health infrastructure in West Africa fundamentally doesn’t exist; health workers are in desperately short supply, the international community is painfully slow to respond, the World Health Organization is fatally flawed in both capacity and leadership, and if it wasn’t for an NGO like Doctors Without Borders the death toll would be exponential.

What marginal international funding there is for humanitarian intervention has gone/is going overwhelmingly to Ebola. As a result, funding for HIV and AIDS has fallen.

You see, the overall amount of money available is still largely the same… it’s just being channeled in a different direction.

What should happen is a dramatic enlargement of the financial foreign aid pie. But it’s not happening.

More’s the pity, because the work being done on HIV at grass-roots level is exactly the kind of community- based model that helps a country fight a scourge. Health systems are strengthened and with them, the capacity to intervene and hold things together.

No one — I repeat, no one — should reduce his or her contribution to Ebola. It’s the life and death struggle of the moment.

But even while supporting the fight against Ebola, we ask you not to forget about HIV.

Prepared from a letter written by Stephen Lewis, Chair of

the Board and Co-Founder Stephen Lewis Foundation