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AIDS advocates say their projects do more than curb the virus; their efforts strengthen other health programs by providing basic health services.
But across Africa, about 1.5 million doctors and nurses are still needed, and hospitals regularly run out of basic medicines.
Experts working on other health problems struggle to attract money and attention when competing with AIDS.
"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.
"We cannot afford, in this time of crisis, to squander our investments," Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general, said in a recent statement.
Some experts ask whether it makes sense to have UNAIDS, WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the Global Fund plus countless other AIDS organizations, all serving the same cause.
"I do not want to see the cause of AIDS harmed," said Shiffman of Syracuse University. But "For AIDS to crowd out other issues is ethically unjust."
De Lay argues that the solution is not to reshuffle resources but to boost them.
"To take money away from AIDS and give it to diarrheal diseases or onchocerciasis (river blindness) or leishmaniasis (disfiguring parasites) doesn't make any sense," he said. "We'd just be doing a worse job in everything else."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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