A better way to fight HIV
A nurse takes a blood sample near Mtubatuba in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.
September 19th, 2012
02:08 PM ET

A better way to fight HIV

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN

(CNN) – Since the AIDS epidemic exploded in the 1980s,  millions have died from the virus, and billions of dollars have been spent fighting it.

Could that money have been better spent?

What if anti-AIDS funding missed cheap, local efforts that already had proven records of saving lives?

Those are some of the provocative questions asked in Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It.

The essence of the authors' argument is pretty simple.

[1:39] "HIV spreads with different speeds and really in different ways in different parts of the world. In San Francisco it was predominately gay men. In Thailand it was predominately brothels. In most of Africa it's spread by heterosexual sex among regular partners, husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends," says Washington Post Journalist Craig Timberg, one of the book's co-authors.

He argues that the sharp focus on vaccines by Western donors and governments has ignored the virus' unique risk factors and methods of spreading.

Timberg and co-author/epidemiologist Dr. Daniel Halperin say that addressing the issue of sex directly, using culturally appropriate language and messaging, can actually slow the spread of the virus.

Halperin says that it's worked in Uganda:

[2:48] "The Ugandans themselves in 1987 began developing something called zero grazing. It was a call to reduce one's number of sexual partners and it's been scientifically documented to have reduced the prevalence of HIV by about 50 percent over decades."

The authors acknowledge that such discussions can prove awkward, especially for Western donors and governments prone to feeling squeamish about discussing culturally different sexual norms.  As Timberg put it:

[3:40] "Who wants to talk about that, right? Who wants to talk about the way people have sex? How they choose their partners? How many partners they have in a month? It's a really uncomfortable subject."

Instead, they advocate letting the locals do the talking.

Timberg and Halperin say that Western donors should continue spending to develop a vaccine and maybe one day a cure. However, resources must also be put into these critical conversations which can and have saved lives.

Listen to the complete story above and join the conversation below.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Mike

    A better way to fight HIV:
    Stop having unprotected sex.

    September 22, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. markson

    Is HIV a speritual desease or physical one?

    September 20, 2012 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
  3. shraeve

    The article is misleading. Uganda is one of two African countries in which HIV is on the rise. The reliance on "zero grazing", rather than condoms, is considered to be one of the main causes. Zero grazing works about as well as abstinence-only education, which is not very well.

    September 20, 2012 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sara

    The audio clip mentioned circumcision in respect to the fact that circumcising reduces the risk up to 60% in heterosexual males. Circumcision also reduces a males risk of infections including those related to STD. I do not think the audio clip nor the article was about the issue surrounding circumcision.

    Even if a vaccine is to be discovered it might not be available to everyone at first, thus, abstinence is the only way to prevent HIV transmission in the sexual sense. Breast milk and blood would be different. Many people are sexual active so efforts should be focused on sexual education and on the availability of physical barriers for sex in order for people to practice safer sex.

    September 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cindy

    Is the circumcision discussed being performed on properly informed mature males who are truly volunteering for the surgery?

    How many infant boys have had circumcision forced upon them in Africa?

    What damage is caused to the penis by circumcision?

    Maybe these things are discussed in the book, but they should have been at least touched upon in the audio clip.

    September 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Cindy, what exactly is your point? I dont see anywhere in the article where circumcision is mentioned. I really hope your not trying to say that retaining your foreskin will protect against HIV. The only way to protect yourself from the disease is not having sex and if you do have sex, protecting yourself with a condom.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |