BLUNTLY SPEAKING: AIDS, RACE, AND POVERTY
Ghanaian Chronicle 19 July 2000
Accra -- The debate over AIDS
gained centre stage at the just-ended 13th International AIDS
Conference in Durban, South Africa. Much of the debate relate to
South African President Thabo Mbeki's skepticism about what causes
the disease, and how it is treated. Participants from Western
nations walked out when Mbeki spoke because he would not toe the
accepted line of the Western AIDS and Medical establishment.
There is no doubt that AIDS is a deadly disease that must be
taken seriously. That it is acquired largely through one of the
most intimate and necessary human activity makes one forlorn about
Since it became a world-wide plague, the disease has also
become a political and public relations nightmare for any country,
group or individual that is closely identified with it. Hence,
the etiology of the disease has always remained controversial.
In 1980, Patrick Buchanan (he will be the Reform Party
candidate in the November U.S.A. presidential elections),
attributed the disease to homosexuals. He called it a 'just
retribution from God' against the homosexuals because of their
In the 1980's the American scientific establishment 'traced'
the source of the disease to Haiti. Several statistics were
published to show the imminent collapse of Haiti as a result of
the disease engulfing the population.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services,
and the American Red Cross subsequently banned Haitian-Americans
from donating blood.
It was a public relations and economic nightmare for Haiti
and Haitians as tourists and investment dollars from overseas
dropped. Haitians assembled in Washington in large numbers and
marched from Congress to the White House to protest what they saw
as unfavourable and unfounded medical claims.
Subsequently, the policy that prevented Haitians from
donating blood in America was officially abandoned. Very little
has been heard about Haiti and AIDS since.
It was not long before Africa would be mentioned in the same
breath as the source of AIDS. But, Edward Hooper, a British
journalist, unruffled the AIDS and Scientific establishment when
in September 1999, his book 'The River: A Journey to the Source of
HIV and AIDS' (Little Brown & Co, 1104 pages) was published. In
this painstakingly researched book, Hooper writes that HIV spread
to humans not from the 'natural' result of Human/Chimp encounters
as previously believed and trumpeted by the medical and
scientificestablishment, but rather from medical experiments done
in Africa on Africans in the 1950s with the administration of the
oral polio vaccine to humans! The first HIV case in Africa is
reported to have been made in 1959!! When I read the book, I
shuddered at all the free vaccines that were given to us as school
children in the 1960s!
Needless to say, Hooper's views have been ostracised by the
scientific and medical establishment.
So has Dr. Peter Duesberg, Professor of Molecular and Cell
Biology at the University of California at Berkeley, who is
described as the 'leading light of AIDS skepticism' and a
'heretic' for questioning the link between HIV and AIDS in 1987.
Duesberg also maintains that the truth about AIDS has been
suppressed in his book 'Inventing the AIDS Virus' published in
President Thabo Mbeki consults with all factions of the AIDS
debate, and he has asked for 'African solutions' to AIDS in Africa
because of the unique manner of infections on the continent.
Hence, the accusations that have been levelled at him by the AIDS
There now appears to be a concerted effort to drum out
President Mbeki because he has dared to question some received
ideas about AIDS in Africa. Oh, if Mbeki could only trumpet the
accepted view, they would hold off a bit. But, here is a guy who
has always challenged the received conventional 'wisdom'.
Had he accepted the Apartheid theology, the Afrikaners would
be ruling in Pretoria at the moment! The statistics on Africa
according to UNAIDS, the umbrella group that co-ordinates the
fight against the disease for the United Nations is quite
mind-boggling. Of the 34.3 million people in the world who have
AIDS -24.5 million of them are in sub-Saharan Africa; 40 million
African children will be orphans because of AIDS in ten years;
thousands are infected daily! Nearly 19 million people have died
of the disease, 14 million in Africa alone.
The American literary figure Mark Twain wrote that there are
three types of lies: Lies; Damn Lies; and Statistics! I am
tempted to ask, where are the graves of the 14 million who have
died in Africa!
I am not discounting the seriousness of the disease in
Africa or anywhere. But, quite frankly, the rather constant
negative and insidious nature of Western Press reports on AIDS in
Africa is rather sickening. It completely dehumanizes us. It
appears any African problem is blown out of all proportion. In
the 1980s, the chant was the imminent environmental collapse of
Africa. And we are still here!
No efforts should be spared in fighting this deadly disease
by educating people on promoting safe sex and abstinence, and
halting transmission from pregnant mothers to their unborn
children. We must be open and frank in talking about the use of
condoms, in living a less promiscuous life styles, and clamping
down upon 'sex tourists' as Thailand did in curtailing the swarm
of Western tourists who flocked Bangkok's bars and night clubs
chasing after teenage girls and boys that laws forbade them to
chase in the West.
Above all, the chorus of criticism on President Mbeki must
stop in order to focus on the pertinent issue of combating the
disease in Africa, and especially southern Africa where the
largest number are presumed to be at risk.
It is refreshing to note that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates
has donated 50 million dollars to assist in the AIDS effort in
Botswana; and the U.S.
Congress on July 13, approved increased funding for
international HIV/AIDS funding. UNAIDS says about 3 billion U.S.
dollars is needed for basic care and prevention in Africa.
African leaders must assist in this effort by investing more on
Health and AIDS education in their countries, and less on
siphoning public funds to overseas and off-shore banks.
If Africa is in so much trouble, then it behooves the AIDS
and Medical establishment to appeal to the drug manufacturers who
fund their research to make Aid drugs available and cheaply to
Africans, rather than engaging in squibs and name-calling.
As Nelson Mandela advised in his closing address to the 13th
International AIDS Conference: "So much unnecessary attention
around this conference had been directed toward a dispute that is
unintentionally distracting from the real life-and-death issues we
are confronted with as a country ... a region, a continent and a
world... In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/AIDS, we
have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save
History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now, and
That sentiment ought to be the guiding light of anyone
interested in fighting the AIDS disease in Africa.