HIV / AIDS Season: Press briefing with Helen Epstein

According to Helen Epstein, the Secretariat of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has lost valuable ground by ignoring for years the contribution of long-term concurrent relationships to Africa’s AIDS epidemic.

UNAIDS may be “contributing to the mystification of AIDS in Africa by promoting a needlessly overcomplicated view of the epidemic”, says Helen Epstein, an independent consultant on public health in developing countries.

She argues that long term, overlapping, or “concurrent” partnerships provide at least a partial explanation for the staggeringly high infection rates in the general population in some African countries, and calls for UNAIDS to reassess its handling of scientific data.

According to Epstein, for years UNAIDS overlooked independent reports about the importance of partner reduction, and until 2006, did not mention long-term concurrency in its reports on sexual behaviour.

Concurrency does not imply a simple solution to the AIDS crisis in Africa, she says, but education about the “superhighway” could help motivate behavioural change, especially partner reduction, and should be integrated into all AIDS education programmes in Africa.

Epstein concludes by calling on the new UNAIDS director and its governing board to re-evaluate the agency’s political and scientific roles, and suggests that scientific issues be addressed through a more open process of research and peer review, rather than by one, largely unregulated UN agency.

Helen Epstein is a public health specialist and molecular biologist who has worked on AIDS vaccine research. http://www.invisiblecure.com/

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