HIV prevention smackdown

On June 27, 2010, in global health, HIV/AIDS, politics, by Karen Grepin

Global health folks are too nice. Even though there is frequently disagreement among people regarding what is the best course of action, rarely is there much direct debate. We’ll send letters to the editor, we may post comments on blogs, but rarely do people really go at it one-on-one. Even when people on a panel disagree with one another they generally begin thanking the other panelists, the hosts, all of the attendees, the donors and everyone else before they even begin to be critical.

The last time I saw anyone really duke it out was a debate between Richard Cash and Jim Yong Kim circa 2003 on “prevention vs. treatment” – it was fun. I think we could use a little bit more lively debate in our profession.

I have not attended one before, but Daniel Halperin recently made me aware of a debate series organized by the World Bank on controversial topics on “Emerging Issues in Today’s HIV Response”.

The next debate will be held this Tuesday, June 29, 2010.  The topic will be “Behavior change in generalized epidemics has not reduced new HIV infections and is an unwise use of HIV prevention resources.”  The topic is controversial and the line up looks good – so maybe it might turn into a real debate!

The Moderator will be Willard Cates, President of Research, Family Health International and the Panelists will be:

  • Myron Cohen, MD, Associate Vice Chancellor; J. Herbert Bate Distinguished Professor, Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, and Public Health; Director, UNC Institute of Global Health and Infectious Disease; Chief, Division of Clinical Infectious Diseases,
  • Daniel Low-Beer, PhD, Unit Director for Performance, Effectiveness and Impact, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,
  • James Shelton, MD, MPH, Science Advisor, Bureau for Global Health, USAID,
  • Francois Venter, FCP (SA), Senior Director, HIV Management Cluster, Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit; Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Luckily for those of us who don’t live in DC, this event will be live webcasted from 9:00 to 11:00 am, Eastern Daylight Time, at the following webaddress:  Supposedly there also live videoconference sites throughout the world (Email to find out the various sites in Africa.)  I’ll be tuning in.
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2 Responses to “HIV prevention smackdown”

  1. Bill Savedoff says:

    Hi Karen,

    I didn't get to see the webcast and would be interested in hearing your thoughts if you did.

    We had a smaller version of the debate on the CGD website when I commented on a piece by Mead Over. (June 16 posting on

    What struck me about the debate this time is how it has less to do with whether or not ART is cost-effective relative to other health interventions but mostly on whether the process of scientific inquiry is or can be politically problematic. The main critique of Mead's position and my blog is that activists have increased the overall funding to health by pushing for ART, thereby avoiding the need to consider cost-effectiveness (which only makes sense when funding is limited). I'm suspicious of any argument that clearheaded research should be held back or softpedaled; at the same time, I'm sympathetic to the dynamic of aid funding that we've seen over the last decade.

    –Bill Savedoff

  2. Tanya Rumble says:

    Great post Karen, just had to give my fellow Canadian a shout out.

    I agree that us Public Health types prefer to work together, and engage in a more nuanced debate rather than head to head.

    The 2010 Munk Debates in Toronto departed from the former approach.

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