UN overstated Aids risk, says specialist
IPN News coverage
The Observer, UK
The United Nations has systematically exaggerated the scale of the Aids epidemic and the risk of the HIV virus affecting heterosexuals, claims a leading expert on the disease.
The numbers of people worldwide with HIV have been inflated and the UN Aids agency has wasted billions of pounds on education aimed at people who are unlikely to become infected, says Professor James Chin, a former senior Aids official with the World Health Organisation. He also accused UNAids of misleading and scaring the public by promoting 'myths' about the disease, such as that poorer people are most at risk, and of being guided in its approach by 'political correctness' rather than hard evidence.
Chin will detail his claims this week in London in a meeting hosted by the International Policy Network, a free-market think tank, where he will launch a new report, called 'The Myth of a General Aids Pandemic'. Despite his controversial reputation, Chin, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, will also explain his concerns when he meets Department for International Development officials who specialise in HIV and Aids.
'UNAids has systematically exaggerated the size and trend of the pandemic, as well as hyping the potential for HIV epidemics in general populations,' said Chin. 'UNAids's perpetuation of the myth that everyone is at risk of Aids has led to billions wasted on prevention programmes directed at general populations and youth who, outside of sub-Saharan Africa, are at minimal risk of exposure to HIV.'
Paul DeLay, UNAids' director of evidence, monitoring and policy, last night rejected Chin's claims and told The Observer he was 'living in the past'. Chin's criticisms are based on old counting systems that have been improved. However, UNAids has revised down its estimate of the number of people worldwide with HIV from more than 40 million to 33.2 million, he admitted. Chin claims the true figure is 'probably under 30 million but close to 30 million'.
DeLay said UNAids was right to warn people that HIV could 'bridge' into heterosexual populations from high-risk groups such as prostitutes, injecting drug users and bisexual men, and that education focused on those most at risk.
Chin's claims are part of a growing backlash at the Aids strategies employed by international aid agencies. Writing in the British Medical Journal last month, Dr Roger England, of the Health Systems Workshop in Grenada, said HIV should be downgraded in the fight to improve global healthcare for poorer people. It caused 3.7 per cent of mortality but received 25 per cent of international healthcare aid, he said. He urged switching £5bn a year of Aids funding to tackle other diseases and said Aids was not a unique global threat.
Official figures from the Health Protection Agency show that Aids had killed 17,932 people in the UK by the end of 2007, of whom 15,409 were men. The annual death rate has fallen from a high of 1,726 in 1995 to 445 last year, of whom 311 were men and 134 women. Similarly, the number of people being diagnosed with Aids has dropped from a peak of 1,853 in 1994 to 503 last year. However, growing numbers of people are being diagnosed as carrying the HIV virus.