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Monday, November 20th 2006

What Exactly Are Economists Good At?

An economists selectively ignores research and facts in studying HIV. This is kind’ve a neat article, asking us to look at the HIV epidemic in Africa different, but at least one of the three points it raises seems inaccurate…and seemingly can be shown with only a Google search.

1. It’s the wrong disease to attack. Approximately 6 percent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV; in the United States, the number is around 0.8 percent. Very often, this disparity is attribu ed to differences in sexual behavior—in the number of sexual partners, the types of sexual activities, and so on. But these differences cannot, in fact, be seen in the data on sexual behavior. So what actually accounts for the gulf in infection rates?

According to my research, the major difference lies in transmission rates of the virus. For a given unprotected sexual relationship with an HIV-infected person, Africans are between four and five times more likely than Americans to become infected with HIV themselves. This stark fact accounts for virtually all of the difference in population-wide HIV rates in the two regions.

He’s arguing basically that Africans have more open genital sores from other STDs. He denies they have practices that account for their increased transmission, but that seems like a fallacious argument when you look at the large amount of data on condom use in sub-saharan Africa. Look at this paper which cites (but doesn’t directly deal with) condom use in sub-saharan Africa, or check the statistics on Zambia.

Now I haven’t seen this economists data (nor would I be able to interpret it) so perhaps this STD infection rate really is the driving cause for HIV infection, but it certainly is dishonest to make the claim that data doesn’t support African sexual practices being riskier than those of the western world. In the case cited above, and in other measures of HIV risk Africa is suffering from a lack of health literacy on HIV/AIDS and on a male-centric culture which is a barrier to women taking steps to protect themselves from HIV transmission.