In the wake of last year's catastrophic failure in AIDS vaccine research (in which vaccine recipients actually had a slightly increased incidence of contracting the disease) it's eminently reasonable to consider other approaches to the problem. Considering the gazillions of dollars we've invested into AIDS vaccine research with no benefit, why not try redirecting our money away from the failing scientists and simply pay people not to get AIDS?

Thousands of people in Africa will be paid to avoid unsafe sex, under a groundbreaking World Bank-backed experiment aimed at halting the spread of Aids.

The $1.8m trial – to be launched this year – will counsel 3,000 men and women aged 15-30 in southern rural Tanzania over three years, paying them on condition that periodic laboratory test results prove they have not contracted sexually transmitted infections.

The proposed payments of $45 equate to a quarter of annual income for some participants.

The programme, jointly funded by the World Bank, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Population Reference Bureau and the Spanish Impact Evaluation Fund, marks an important step in the fight to tackle Aids, which claims 2m lives a year.

In spite of billions of dollars spent annually on treatment and prevention worldwide, there were about 2.5m new HIV infections in 2007, predominantly in Africa.

Carol Medlin from the University of California, San Francisco, one of the researchers, said: “We hope this ‘reverse prostitution’ will make people think hard about the long-term consequences of their short-term behaviour.”

Sounds worth a shot. It would be surprising to me if a few dollars would provide much additional incentive to avoid a fatal disease, but then it's surprising to me that anyone contracts AIDS from sex or drug use anymore. If these payments reduce the infection rate by even 1% then they'll be more effective than all the research into AIDS vaccines thus far.

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