Though not exactly ecology, this week’s “HIV/AIDS in America” special issue in Science highlights an important trend that applies to all sciences involving the public well being: the extent to which economically marginalized communities bear the brunt of many challenges, be it the HIV/AIDS epidemic, or, as our lab has pointed out in the past, biodiversity loss.
This message about economic vulnerability and HIV is made clear in the issue’s news feature A Tale of 10 Cities by Jon Cohen, which does a nice job of highlighting how economic and social stability have major consequences for prevention and treatment of infection in individuals, and, one imagines, on the overall infection dynamics as well. While much of the the article’s focus is on prevention and treatment programs in cities across the United States, Cohen also describes how structures that uproot people, such as borders, can facilitate spread, whereas socially stabilizing structures can minimize it by facilitating access to treatment and acquisition of stable housing for the infected.
It should not come as a surprise that economically vulnerable individuals can be the hardest hit by medical or ecological stressors, but this unfortunate truth seems particularly germane to our present era of exceptional austerity and government cut backs. Economically it has been a tumultuous year across the globe, which has brought many governments to try and curtail long running deficits, yet there is also a much needed place for societal assistance to prevent the most vulnerable from being left behind. There is a role here for academia generally, and science specifically, to guide us through the challenges facing us, and we would all do well to remember that when deciding on the allocation of our limited resources.