On Sunday at the opening of an international AIDS conference in Paris, economist Jean-Paul Moatti dismissed arguments that treating HIV-positive people in developing countries is not cost-effective, saying it is more expensive not to treat the virus. AIDS experts estimate that only about 5% of the 30 million people in poor countries who need HIV treatment are getting it. Moatti, an economics professor at the University of Marseille in France, said studies show that resistance to treatment is no more common in the developing world than elsewhere, and recent evidence has shown that treatment enhances prevention efforts, rather than hampering them. "We have systematically underestimated the impact of AIDS on the economy," he said. "It doesn't just kill workers; it kills young adults, and young adults make children and raise children--human capital. When you take that into the equation, you find a very different impact on the economy."
Many experts have argued that improving access to treatment in the developing world would encourage people to engage in risky behavior and would increase resistance to anti-HIV drugs because HIV-positive people in developing nations may not be able to afford to consistently take the medications. Missing medication doses can lead to the development of drug-resistance virus, reducing future treatment options. Other AIDS experts believe the funds needed to provide treatment would be better spent on prevention efforts. But Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, discussed at the conference his country's success in providing antiretroviral drugs for all who need them. The Brazilian experience proves universal treatment is possible in any country, he said.