Africa, AIDS, and Victim-Blaming

Approximately 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are thought to be infected with the HIV virus. Unlike the West, from the start, HIV/AIDS in Africa has ravaged the non-drug-using heterosexual population. Let me put it this way: People whose Western counterparts are not at risk for HIV/AIDS have been the epidemic’s principal victims in Africa. Why?

This has prompted many people to blame the victims in ways that played on the worst racial stereotypes and prejudices: Researchers and experts argued that “Africans were simply incapable of being anything but promiscuous where sex was concerned.”

They were wrong: The AIDS epidemic in Africa was not because of a unique African promiscuity. In some ways, it is the product of efforts to reduce the number of Africans.

In his book Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, Steven Mosher tells readers about the work of researchers David Gisselquist and Stephen Potterat. Prior to their work, it had been assumed that the AIDS epidemic had been spread by heterosexual sex.

Assumed because there was little evidence that this was the case. But, as Mosher points out, it was an assumption that suited the needs of various influential parties: most obviously, AIDS activists.

Another such group was population controllers who believed that Africa was “overpopulated.” A heterosexually spread epidemic would allow them to flood the continent with condoms. While Africans might not have used them for birth control, surely they would use them to prevent the spread of a potentially lethal virus!

Gisselquist and Potterat put the heterosexual transmission assumption to the test and found it wanting. Their peer-reviewed analysis of 22 studies found that instead of 90 percent of African AIDS cases being the result of sexual transmission, as was assumed, the real number was 25 to 35 percent. By way of comparison, the U.S. percentage is well over 50.

According to the researchers, the evidence suggested a “large majority of HIV infections in non-promiscuous adults.” Far from being the victims of their own promiscuity, half of all African AIDS victims were involved in monogamous relationships.

So, if promiscuity is not driving the epidemic in Africa, what is? Substandard medical care-specifically, dirty needles. Almost uniquely, in Africa the more “health care” a person receives, the greater her chances of being infected.

That is because the sanitary conditions we take for granted do not exist in poor African countries. There, syringes and surgical instruments are often re-used without proper sterilization. The needles used to administer vaccine can also transmit AIDS.

It is not only vaccination. The World Health Organization has acknowledged that needles used to administer contraceptives like Depo-Provera are often re-used. Their likely connection to the spread of HIV was tacitly confirmed by their replacement in 2002 by needles that could be used only once.

While it is impossible to know how many women were infected this way, it is clear that population-control efforts, inadvertently maybe, contributed to the spread of the virus in Africa.

But what was not inadvertent was the libeling of an entire continent by outsiders with agendas. People who did or should have known the truth went along with a lie, adding insult to a most grievous injury.

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