Drugs, no matter how effective, can fight AIDS only when delivered to the people who need them. On that front, the war against HIV has been a dismal failure. Some 72% of the world's estimated 5.3 million new infections per year are in Africa. Yet virtually no one is getting treatment.
New analyses show this is more than a health catastrophe: The epidemic can cause economic crises and pose national security risks for the U.S. "Africa has no chance of developing without first addressing AIDS, malaria, and other diseases," says economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Harvard Center for International Development. If these diseases are not controlled, the continent will slow the growth of the global economy. And the societal breakdowns from disease may lead directly to conflicts and mass migrations requiring intervention by the West. "There's a recognition by the CIA and the U.N. Security Council that this pandemic fundamentally threatens U.S. interests," says Sachs. Compared with the huge cost of doing nothing, he says, spending $2 billion to $5 billion to prevent and treat AIDS is a bargain.