From the Associated Press:
Murray and colleagues also found AIDS gets at least 23 cents of every health dollar going to poor countries. Globally, AIDS causes fewer than 4 percent of deaths.
It’s not surprising that the Seattle Times covered this story—after all, the Gates Foundation is based in Seattle. And the Associated Press is known for its ubiquitous coverage. But why did most of the major press outlets skip covering this?
Perhaps because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation not only funded the study, but is itself a significant financier of global health projects—making up nearly four percent of total funds for international healthcare assistance in 2007. And while the researchers were transparent about their funding, there is a possibility that the Gates-backed study put the Gates foundation in a positive light— à la a certain statin study from last fall.
But, still, the purpose of the study was not to promote non-governmental organizations for their increase of contributions, or to chide the UN for not providing enough money. Researchers explored whether low and middle income countries were getting enough funding for their health programs—having a comprehensive list of organizations that assist was part of the methods, and a side result.
Journalists may also have not been so quick to report on the study because of an additional issue with the methods. Researchers did not include non-governmental, non-U.S. organizations when calculating contributions. So there could be an international foundation that donates more money than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Or international donors could be assisting countries that receive, according to the study, a disproportionately low level of development assistance for health.
Even with these issues, more reporters should have covered this story. The lack of attention from the press is just another example of the decline in global health coverage at US media outlets. Too bad, because international media like the Guardian and the AFP picked up the story. Not covering the results might make it harder for journalists to explain why UN programs might not work in the future. When we’re not seeing results/better quality of health after throwing millions of dollars to dubious projects, in say, India, journalists are going to have to go back and explain.
The Lancet study provided one of those rare, opportune moments to help news readers, according to an editorial in the Lancet, understand “quantitatively what many observers have seen qualitatively.” By not educating the public on the shifting landscape of organizations’ assistance, we risk a future where the WHO won’t be the predominant authority in promoting global health. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to the public to decide, but right now newsreaders are in the dark. We wish journalists spread the word a little bit more.