Thursday, May 11, 2006

Leadership and education

USA Today has posted an editorial about the Jacob Zuma rape trial in South Africa. There are many lessons to be drawn from that trial, but USA Today's editorial ends with this:
In the quarter-century of the AIDS plague, the best prevention and treatment methods have become well-known. They include leadership and education.

Look at that closely.
  • We are approaching the 25th anniversary of the HIV epidemic.
  • AIDS is comparable to the great plagues that wiped out large portions of the population in some parts of the world in the middle ages.
  • We already know the best methods for prevention and treatment (given current research).
  • Leadership and education are part of prevention and treatment.

I have, perhaps, added a bit to what the writer intended, but I don't think I've stretched the meaning too far out of shape. He/she doesn't actually mention the plagues of the middle ages, but the allusion is there with the word chosen to describe the AIDS pandemic. He/she doesn't add the "current research" caveat, but I don't think the writer actually meant to imply that we have reached the end of the road on treatment. That being said, I think there are some further lessons/issues/thoughts that arise from these points:

  • After a quarter of a century, our experience with HIV/AIDS is still comparatively young. We have been dealing with heart disease, cancer, and even the plague for much longer. We have come a long way in a remarkably short period of time, but we still have neither a cure not a vaccine. After 25 years, HIV is still deadly.
  • The severity of the global pandemic has been costly in lives, money, and the progress of civilization. Whole generations have been wiped out in Africa. Whole communities have been devastated in the U.S. Our health care system has been challenged. Our budgets have been strained. The plague continues, but too many have become complacent: "It won't affect me." "There's a pill for that now."
  • We know how to prevent HIV and still we face ignorance and dogma that prevent us from preventing the spread of the virus.
  • Leadership has time and again shown itself to be effective in supporting HIV prevention in Africa. Where is that leadership in the U.S.?

The USA Today editorial is very much on point. It is, however, too easy to talk about "AIDS ignorance" in Africa. Ignorance in Africa is very much in the middle of our stereotypes about the continent, so we are comfortable aiming criticism in that direction. We have the same ignorance in the U.S. As we get closer to that 25th anniversary, I'd like to see USA Today write the same editorial about leadership and education in the U.S.

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