Can Ebola help leverage funds for HIV?

Exhibits and awareness sessions on HIV/AIDS and Ebola during U.N. Cares day held Nov. 2 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The current spotlight on Ebola could help bring to public attention the importance of robust public health systems. Photo by: Myriam Asmani / MONUSCO / CC BY-SA

When a single issue, disease or disaster rises above others and achieves global notoriety, aid watchers often worry about resources and funding getting sapped from less eye-catching — but equally pressing — priorities.

While many have criticized that the global response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa was too little, too late, others wonder whether non-Ebola programs will suffer as funding and attention flows to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

But as global health leaders pointed out Nov. 4 in Washington, D.C., the spotlight on Ebola could help, not hinder, public health professionals seeking funds for HIV research and other public health initiatives.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, approximately 5,000 people had died of Ebola as of early November, while on Nov. 3 alone, 4,100 people died of AIDS and 5,700 people were infected with HIV.

He illustrated that these numbers can be especially striking given Ebola’s current hype and can be used to encourage donors to open their eyes to other health emergencies.

“It would have been nice retrospectively if … we would have had as much concern back in the 1980s for HIV as we’re having for Ebola right now,” Fauci said to an applauding audience Nov. 4 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The outbreak in West Africa has also helped bring to public attention the importance of creating robust public health systems — not just funding isolated programs.

Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, mentioned how Nigeria was able to avert a potential Ebola epidemic in part thanks to other global health investments that bolstered its health infrastructure. Warren singled out in particular investments from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — the latter to combat polio.

“Don’t say we’re not going to invest in PEPFAR because we have an Ebola outbreak,” he said. “We should be doubling down on PEPFAR investment because it’s probably … the single best investment in health systems building in the history of global public health,” he added.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.