AFRICA'S AIDS FIGURES ARE DUBIOUS
By Alexander Rose
The National Post (Canada) 4 May 2000
President Bill Clinton decided to list AIDS as a "threat to U.S.
national security" on the very same weekend that a massive Gay Pride
parade assembled at the Washington Monument to cheer Al Gore's
candidacy. The backscratching paid off. On Sunday, the vice-president
obediently said he wants to expand the definition of "national security"
to include health and education issues.
First among these is the epidemic of HIV/AIDS ravaging sub-Saharan
Africa, which might spread to these shores. It is reported that nearly
70% of the world's HIV and AIDS victims live (and die) there, while a
quarter of the population is expected to die of AIDS in the next decade.
These figures are dubious. If there is an epidemic, why is it confined
to sub-Saharan Africa while North African (i.e., Muslim) Egypt has
recorded a "mere" 215 AIDS-related deaths since the early 1980s? Even
within sub-Saharan Africa, why is it that Nigeria and Cameroon report
very few cases while Rwanda, Uganda, Zaire and Kenya are apparently
stricken with the virus? Why is the disease thought to be afflicting men
and women of all backgrounds and locales in sub-Saharan Africa while
North American cases are almost exclusively promiscuous homosexuals and
Some have suggested that the sub-Saharan angle appeals to liberal
Westerners imbued with colonialist instincts towards the "heart of
darkness." We've all heard the story about the philandering truck driver
ploughing his way through hordes of teenage girls, a neo-Victorian image
that reminds us of rubber-lipped savages ravishing the village strumpet
with her National Geographic-breasts. As Tom Bethell of the American
Spectator pithily says: it's "Beverly Hills morals imputed to African
But the most important question is: Are we sure that the millions of
victims in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from HIV/AIDS? Some, like
Africa veteran Charles Geshekter at the California State University,
aren't so sure. He points out that in North America, AIDS patients are
certified as HIV positive and suffer from any one or more of 30 diseases
To qualify as an AIDS victim in sub-Saharan Africa, however, there is no
need to test positive to HIV, let alone undergo a test at all. As a
result, the narrow North American definition of AIDS has been swept
aside, and we're using in its stead a sprawling catch-all. If some
unfortunate soul contracts malaria or tuberculosis, or even succumbs to
a "prolonged fever, weight loss of 10% or greater, and prolonged
diarrhoea," he or she will probably be catalogued as an AIDS victim.
It's easy to see how the numbers, especially in the absence of rigorous
surveillance, can balloon into an "AIDS epidemic" of Black Death
proportions. As even a paranoiac CIA report linking infectious diseases
with national security circumspectly acknowledged: Agencies "are often
forced to extrapolate or build models based on relatively small samples,
as in the case of HIV/AIDS." In Africa, accurate record-keeping is
virtually non-existent, forcing researchers to make guesstimates.
This is not to say that nobody in Africa is dying of AIDS. But the
figures seem to have been distorted and exaggerated out of all
proportion. The tragedy is that blaming mortality rates on a sexually
transmitted disease is a convenient fiction that avoids addressing the
real problems afflicting sub-Saharan Africa, where political and
economic instability is endemic. Nearly a third of the region's 42
countries are currently at war. Misgovernment is rife, as is
misapplication of development funds. Basic medical services are
chronically hard to find, just as basic sanitation is in short supply.
Their absence has led to 900,000 deaths from malaria in 1998 alone in
sub-Saharan Africa, and more than 1.5-million cases of tuberculosis. All
of these are either easily preventable or curable. As a "national
security" threat, it's unlikely African HIV/AIDS can even begin to
compare with malaria, TB, measles, tetanus, pertussis or even diptheria.
Proper North American-style diagnoses, in combination with clean water,
protein nutrition, immunization and other such preliminary steps, could
cut the inflated HIV/AIDS figure overnight.
Then we could start doing something about the real African problems.