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January 16, 2004

Overestimation is "In"

First came the news that AIDs in Africa has be overestimated. Wildly overestimated.

The preliminary report of the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey suggested that HIV has infected about one million adults in the country. Previous estimates put the number at up to three million.

Not that it completely alleviates worry over the issue. If the new estimates are correct (according to the article that I've quoted above), there would still be 22 million infected in Africa. Suddenly, though, it might not quite the problem that it seemed to be.

This is good news in that money initially earmarked for treatment can now be shifted to prevention. Frankly, the problem doesn't go away with treatment, it goes away (or, at least, dwindles to more normal proportions) with the emphasis on education and prevention.

It might not be such good news for the NGOs that take in government and private money to deal with AIDs in Africa. If the new numbers are correct, and if the number of infections is reduced by 25% or more, then there will likely be a strong reduction in charitable aid.

Now, an audit group is saying that the need for food aid has likewise been overstated.

Auditors Valid International said some fund-raising campaigns had talked of famine or a crisis of biblical proportions, which was an exaggeration.

The audit said this approach could lessen credibility in future appeals.
As well as using misleading or emotive language, the audit said some groups had not consulted local people enough and did not fully understand their needs.

For example, one charity provided an expensive diesel pump to irrigate a small field where a foot pump would have been sufficient.

It's an interesting thing that Western nations in general and these charitable organizations in particular continue to baby Africans along as if they were children. Instead of finding out what the people actually need, the assumption is that the wise members of the organizations know far better than the people themselves.

Well, it looks like overestimating is "in." Whether this is self-serving (to make the organizations look better or more impressive) or truly from good intentions (overstatement simply to try to increase awareness and giving), the end result is the same: people trust these organizations less, money and aid is wasted, and the root problems facing the needy aren't truly addressed.

But we can all feel good because we've given so much.

(Thanks very much to Walter for having pointed out the AIDs article a few days ago.)

Posted by zombyboy at January 16, 2004 10:39 AM

Statistics are always tantamount to lying anyway ;) but millions of people are still (of course) millions of people. And there are certainly geographical areas in which prevention is not enough, in fact already too late.

In a community I have worked in (South Africa, North-West province) the statistics were that 50% of the population over 15 were HIV+. I could never verify that statistic, but I could see the Saturday exodus as nearly everyone had a funeral to attend among the many occurring that day in one township. Even if the statistics aren't what they were purported to be ono the whole, much of southern Africa still lives in a funeral culture that is passing away.

Just found your blog, and not being argumentative here :) Just sharing my perspective.

Posted by: k3 at January 16, 2004 12:16 PM

Statistics most certainly are a useful way to lie. And, just for the record, even argumentative would be welcome; I like to hear other points of view.

My problem with not putting most of our efforts into prevention (which is really about a wide variety of educational methods) is that it ensures new infections. The only way to really deal with the problem is to slow the rate of new infection (while, of course, doing what can be done to help treat those already infected). I wouldn't advocate doing one without the other, but I do think that money spent on prevention is more important than it is normally credited.

People see a problem and they want to treat the resulting pain; I understand that, but I want to see effort spent in keeping that problem from happening again.

Welcome, and thanks for the comment and the perspective. I'll be dropping by your blog later to enjoy more of that point of view.

Posted by: zombyboy at January 16, 2004 12:26 PM

Our perspective is probably not that far off. I guess it depends on your ideals of 'prevention.' In the community I referred to above, there is a general low standard of health (as you've referred to earlier in your blog), but of course a proliferation of condoms (probably not of their actual use). But at least in this area, while there were still people here and there who referred to AIDS as "American Invention to Discourage Sex," most have accepted its existence and viability because they have seen so many people buried... always people they know.

Many of them are educated "enough" when it comes to HIV. They may not understand the microscopic workings of the disease, but they know the basics of how it is transmitted. In my experience, the people whom you would expect to reach with prevention methods (teens) do not care. Their lives economically, educationally etc. are not worth anything to them anyway. There is a very fatalist mindset, which is despairingly unfortunate but not inexplicable. A young woman I met had lived in an 'informal settlement' with her mother and father, an uncle and aunt, and 3 smaller children who were siblings or cousins. 5 of these people die in a span of 1 year from AIDS-related illness. But still this young woman feels her life is so valueless that HIV does not matter; she may as well 'enjoy' life as she's got it. So she is infected now too. It is not due to simple lack of preventative education.

Prevention then (in my opinion) may be best directed towards children, 5-10. And I don't mean condoms, but an education of moral fabric that lets a person know they are worth more than the sum of their economic opportunities, and that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Other forms of prevention - much like AIDS treatment drugs themselves - may well be too late for many rural communities like this.

If world would have reacted 10 years ago, that might be different today.

Posted by: k3 at January 17, 2004 05:24 PM

You're absolutely right: our thoughts on the subject are much closer than they might first appear.

Posted by: zombyboy at January 20, 2004 09:38 AM
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