The Financial and Ethical Tug-of-War by Soraya Chanyasubkit

I dislike tug-of-war. It’s rope burns, straining muscles and feet, and interminable, futile exertion of energy . And this is what is happening now with HIV/AIDS – a complex, constant power struggle.  This week’s articles addressed the “right” distribution of funds for HIV/AIDS prevention, ethical use of animal testing, and “progress” of an HIV vaccine. It truly shows how difficult it is to proceed in stopping this elusive and powerful virus. Let the tug-of-war games begin.

Round 1: HIV vs. Malaria – HIV is dangerous in its immediate, unobvious symptology and long latency period (~10 years). It is not as obvious as malaria in its prevention and treatment. And resources should be dedicated to continually fight against it. But having read Owen Barder’s blog, I realize that funds need to be re-evaluated and redistributed. Like many others students have mentioned before in this blog and in class, setting a price on a person’s life seems heartless, but we’re working with a finite financial source here. If it means re-allocating funds from HIV prevention to buy mosquito nets, so be it. I feel it is more important to analyze the country/region’s profile rather than picking and choosing diseases. Yet, Ethiopia has an HIV problem, but they also have more immediate infectious diseases running rampant through a variety of vectors: insects, water, microbes, etc. HIV should be a concern, but not necessarily a priority. What was most disturbing was the fact people consciously tried to become infected due to the resources and benefits that are available to HIV-infected patients, that’s defeating the entire system of treatment/prevention. It’s similar to how people would commit petty crime during the winters so that they can have a better place to sleep in jail than outside.

Round 2: Animal rights vs. Human rights – As a Neuroscience major, I’ve read countless scientific articles using animal subjects – rats, mice, voles, macaques, etc. This isn’t an HIV/AIDS specific issue, but prevalent in the science community as a whole. I understand where the animal advocates are coming from, but are we supposed to jump right in to human testing and clinical trials? “Oh, we aren’t sure what a good dosage is, what possible side effects there are, what level of toxicity this is, and we can’t test it on anything, so we’ll inject it into a human.” I know that the biology of different animals mean different outcomes but at least it’s a gauge, a rough estimate, of how the drug might work. I feel the animal activists are doing more harm than good when they vandalize laboratories. Rather than destroying work (and thereby invalidating the animal’s sacrifice in the first place), they would work with scientists to ensure compliance to animal safety regulation and ethics. I personally have not done research with animals, but my friends have. He performed surgeries on mice to observe neuromuscular junctions, and while he was training of course there were a couple casualties along the way. But what else could he do?

Round 3: Vaccine vs. Mother Nature – It’s kind of disheartening, the level of progress that has been made, or rather, not made. It’s also mind-boggling how extensive clinical trials are, just the initial number of people who are enrolled to the final talley. I am becoming more and more unsure of a veritable vaccine for HIV and maybe the funding can be put to better use elsewhere.

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