HIV Epidemic Brought About ‘Global Health,’ Serves As Model For Response To Other Diseases

“The changes wrought by HIV have not only affected the course of the epidemic: they have had powerful effects on research and science, clinical practices, and broader policy,” Allan Brandt of Harvard University writes in an New England Journal of Medicine perspective piece, adding, “Most notably, the AIDS epidemic has provided the foundation for a revolution that upended traditional approaches to ‘international health,’ replacing them with innovative global approaches to disease. Indeed, the HIV epidemic and the responses it generated have been crucial forces in ‘inventing’ the new ‘global health.'” He describes the epidemic’s impact on disease activism, health funding, philanthropy, the cost of essential medicines, and human rights. “These complementary innovations are at the core of what we now call ‘global health’ — which has demonstrated its capacity to be far more integrative than traditional notions of international health,” Brandt writes, concluding, “When the history of the HIV epidemic is eventually written, it will be important to recognize that without this epidemic there would be no global health movement as we know it today” (6/6).

In a related NEJM review article, Peter Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Thomas Quinn of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases describe the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and write, “This unprecedented global response to the AIDS pandemic can serve as a model for the response to other global health threats.” They discuss advances in treatment and prevention strategies, writing, “An impressive array of evidence-based interventions can be implemented to treat established infections and prevent new ones.” Piot and Quinn conclude, “These programs will require universal access, large-scale implementation, careful monitoring and evaluation, financial and technical resources, and robust commitment. Only then may we begin to see a substantial effect on the global spread of HIV infection” (6/6).