NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Do The Media Drive Disproportionate Funding For AIDS?

August 20, 1999

Should society pay any price to stop the AIDS epidemic? The temptation is to say yes. But what if the price includes less help for victims of other diseases? Though AIDS is an undeniable tragedy, medical science is always confronted with trade-offs when allocating finite research dollars, and the actual "disease burden" of AIDS, measured in the number of persons affected and life-years lost, is lower than many other diseases.

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (June 17, 1999) shows that AIDS ranks below such conditions as diabetes, stroke, and asthma in disease burden. On a number of measures, AIDS ranked between 15th and 20th out of 29 conditions examined. There is, however, a dramatic exception to the rankings: AIDS is far and away the largest recipient of National Institutes of Health funding.

  • In fact, AIDS receives nearly 30 percent ($1.4 billion) of all NIH funding, almost four times the amount allocated to the next largest recipient, breast cancer research ($381 million).
  • Diseases such as epilepsy, asthma and prostate cancer receive less than 2 percent of funding apiece, even though they afflict vastly more people.
  • For instance, while 1.4 million suffer from AIDS in 1999, asthma afflicts nearly 16 million.

The media's role in public awareness has been a factor in disproportionate funding for AIDS research, say observers. News of the AIDS crisis consistently emphasizes rapidly encroaching danger, no matter what course the actual numbers took. For instance, the English publication Independent reported, "AIDS became the world's deadliest infectious disease over the past year, displacing tuberculosis."

But this is misleading. AIDS "moved up several notches" in the ranking not because AIDS deaths were increasing but because deaths from other leading causes, in particular tuberculosis, fell.

Source: "Aiding and Abetting: Does the Media Drive Disproportionate Funding for AIDS?" Vital Stats , July 1999, Statistical Assessment Service, 2100 L Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, (202) 223-3193.


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