Improving Overall Health Systems More Beneficial Than Treating Diseases As ‘Exceptions,’ Emergencies

Foreign Affairs: When Exceptions Become the Norm
Adia Benton, assistant professor of anthropology and African studies at Northwestern University and visiting assistant professor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School

“…By the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, HIV exceptionalism — the idea that HIV/AIDS was an exceptional disease that requires an exceptional response — had become a global health mantra. … But the exceptionalist approach has been for the worse. In fact, HIV exceptionalism often allows the disease to be seen as an emergency, rather than as one issue to tackle within a part of a larger health overhaul. In other words, the framing of HIV/AIDS as an emergency has overwhelmed efforts to build robust and resilient health systems in Sierra Leone, for example, and elsewhere. And now the approach has spread beyond HIV, contributing to bungled international responses to other issues, including the Ebola virus. … Instead of treating dangerous diseases as special cases, making general improvements to health systems, it appears, can indeed be a rising tide that lifts all ships” (3/10).