Mr Brown is right to target the Aids crisis in Africa

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown moved away from squabbling over leadership of the Labour Party to a rather more laudable cause yesterday: the search for a technological solution to the scourge of Aids. The worst disease of modern times has caused carnage on an unimaginable scale, with 3.1 million deaths last year and almost 40 million people infected. The disease has destroyed families and communities, and threatens entire nations by removing the breadwinners on whom their future depends.

Gordon Brown moved away from squabbling over leadership of the Labour Party to a rather more laudable cause yesterday: the search for a technological solution to the scourge of Aids. The worst disease of modern times has caused carnage on an unimaginable scale, with 3.1 million deaths last year and almost 40 million people infected. The disease has destroyed families and communities, and threatens entire nations by removing the breadwinners on whom their future depends.

One may wonder why a Chancellor of the Exchequer is adopting such a high profile on an issue outside his brief, but, nevertheless, his efforts to galvanise Western nations deserve praise. He wants to raise international aid by $50bn a year to fund campaigns against poverty, and argues that one fifth of this money should be devoted to Aids research and treatment.

Scientists will raise eyebrows at his claim that an Aids vaccine could be developed in 10 years if only sufficient funds were forthcoming. Progress so far is not encouraging. But there are many other urgent measures that demand investment. A microbicide, a gel that could be used by women to destroy the virus during sex, would improve their power to protect themselves. The disease is growing fastest in women, who now account for 57 per cent of those infected in sub-Saharan Africa.

The lack of health workers is a key impediment to preventing and treating HIV. Migration is shrinking the workforce in many developing countries as skilled health staff are poached by richer nations - not least by Britain, following the Chancellor's generosity towards the health service. Simpler combinations of anti-retroviral drugs, at prices poor countries can afford, would improve compliance and reduce the risk of drug-resistant strains of the disease emerging.

But Aids is not a single epidemic. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, the disease has followed different trajectories in different regions. There is no magic bullet. Different strategies are needed to tackle the disease, and the social norms that sustain it, in different parts of the world. There are enough glimmers of hope to show that Gordon Brown is right on one thing. Aids can be beaten - and it must be.

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