THE EPIDEMIC OF AFRICAN AIDS HYSTERIA
By Charles Geshekter
The Citizen SA 16 Sept. 1998
The alarm over AIDS in Africa - "the new Black Plague"- reached a fever pitch at the recent AIDS Conference in Geneva. A closer scrutiny of the facts
suggests that it's time to cool down the rhetoric.
What exactly is an "AIDS" case in Africa? What is the scientific basis for
claims about HIV prevalence?
Millions of Africans have long suffered from weight loss, chronic diarrhea,
fever and persistent coughs. In 1985, western researchers suddenly re-defined
these symptoms as a distinct illness (AIDS), declaring they were caused by a
sexually transmitted virus (HIV).
Based on clinical symptoms, not laboratory analysis, the definition of "AIDS"
in Africa differs decisively from the one used in the U.S. and Europe. By
treating the effects of poverty as sexually contagious, AIDS in Africa
suddenly seemed as widespread as malaria, dysentery or sleeping sickness.
How can one virus cause 29 different "AIDS "diseases almost entirely among
males in Europe and America, but afflict African men and women in nearly equal
numbers? What accounts for the African gender distribution of a virus whose
transmission requires a thousand heterosexual acts?
Researchers assumed that AIDS in Africa was driven by a sexual promiscuity
similar to what produced - in combination with recreational drugs, venereal
disease and over-use of antibiotics - an epidemic of immune deficiency among a
small sub-culture of urban gay men in the West.
Such assumptions are useless for a continent of 650 million people where no
comprehensive sex surveys have been carried out. No one has ever shown that
people in Rwanda, Zaire or Kenya - the so-called "AIDS belt" - are more active
sexually than people in Nigeria which has reported only 5500 AIDS cases out of
a population of 110 million or Cameroon which had 9600 cases out of 12
HIV tests identify antibodies, not the virus itself. And the tests are
notoriously unreliable among populations compromised by parasitic infections
or anemia caused by malaria. People who suffer from tuberculosis or bouts of
dysentery carry many other antibodies, making it impossible to prove which
bacteria caused certain symptoms.
A 1994 study in central Africa showed that conventional microbes responsible
for tuberculosis and leprosy were so endemic that over 70% of HIV-positive
test results were false. This is important to remember every time the media
reports 16,000 "new" HIV infections a day.
Dr. Val Turner of Royal Perth Hospital (Australia) explains that Africans who
get an "AIDS" diagnosis are considered heterosexual cases simply because they
come from a country where heterosexual activity is presumably the mode of
transmission. "Knowledge of actual sexual contact," says Turner, "is not a
With its elements of sex, blood and death, AIDS sells more newspapers than any
disease in history. The drumbeat that "safe sex" is the way to prevent AIDS
inadvertently frightens many Africans from visiting a clinic for even minor
ailments. According to Dr. Chifumbe Chintu, "Africans with treatable medical
conditions (such as tuberculosis) who perceive themselves as having HIV
infection fail to seek medical attention because they think they have an
A Tanzanian study showed that simply providing pregnant HIV-positive women
with inexpensive multivitamins resulted in healthier babies and a noticeable
increase in post-natal immunities. Convinced they were dealing with a viral
infection, the mystified researchers conceded that "how the individual
vitamins produce these effects was not understood."
While health officials fixate on condom distribution or make evangelistic
demands for behavior modification, approximately 55% of sub-Saharan Africans
lack access to safe water, 60% have no proper sanitation and over 50 million
pre-school children are malnourished.
Having millions of Africans threatened by "AIDS" makes it politically
expedient to use the continent for vaccine trials or for distribution of
severely toxic drugs like AZT that radically affects the liver and kidneys,
causes muscular diseases and destroys red blood cells.
At the Geneva Conference, the AIDS Vaccine Initiative spokesmen lobbied for
$500 million "to encourage drug companies to move toward the eventual goal of
profiting from AIDS vaccines." When a U.N. panel condemned U.S. safety
standards for vaccine tests, calling them a form of "cultural imperialism"
that was inappropriate for Africa, Dr. Peter Piot of the UNAIDS Program
welcomed such misguided advice as a "shift from older attitudes of paternalism
and protectiveness to greater empowerment by developing countries."
The real threats to African lives are famine, rural poverty, migratory labor
systems, urban crowding, the collapse of state structures and the sadistic
violence of civil wars. When essential services for water, power or transport
break down, public sanitation deteriorates and tuberculosis, dysentery and
respiratory infections increase.
The weight loss, diarrhea, fever and persistent cough that define AIDS in
Africa are found equally among men and women because of environmental risks to
which they are regularly exposed. Dr. F.J. Millard, a local physician,
described conditions in rural South Africa that produce a rising incidence of
"AIDS" symptoms: "the area suffered from neglect during the apartheid years.
There is poverty, malnutrition, violence, unemployment and overpopulation."
The best predictors for "AIDS" anywhere in Africa are economic deprivation,
malnutrition, poor sanitation and parasitic infections, not extraordinary
sexual behavior or antibodies for a virus that has proved difficult to isolate
Journalists should familiarize themselves with the contradictions, anomalies
and inconsistencies in the bio-medical dogma about HIV/AIDS. Once they
consider the non-contagious explanations for "AIDS" cases in Africa, they can
stop the relentless proliferation of terrifying misinformation that equates
sexuality with death. *
Prof. Charles Geshekter teaches African History at California State University, Chico.