With "World AIDS Day" marked on Monday, some experts are growing more outspoken in complaining that AIDS is eating up funding at the expense of more pressing health needs.
"AIDS is a terrible humanitarian tragedy, but it's just one of many terrible humanitarian tragedies," said Jeremy Shiffman, who studies health spending at Syracuse University.
Paul de Lay, a director at UNAIDS, disagrees. "We have an epidemic that has caused between 55 million and 60 million infections," de Lay said. "To suddenly pull the rug out from underneath that would be disastrous."
Others argue that closing UNAIDS would free up its $200 million annual budget for other health problems such as pneumonia, which kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
By 2006, AIDS funding accounted for 80 percent of all American aid for health and population issues, according to the Global Health Council. (In a 2006 report, Rwandan officials noted a "gross misallocation of resources" in health: $47 million went to HIV, $18 million went to malaria, the country's biggest killer, and $1 million went to childhood illnesses.)
"Diarrhea kills five times as many kids as AIDS," said John Oldfield, executive vice president of Water Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes clean water and sanitation. "Everybody talks about AIDS at cocktail parties," Oldfield said. "But nobody wants to hear about diarrhea," he said.
These competing claims on public money are likely to grow louder as the world financial meltdown threatens to deplete health dollars.