NOTEWORTHY SUCCESSES AGAINST AIDS IN AFRICA
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2007/12/04
Amid all the bad news and dire warnings, occasionally real successes have been reported in bringing down the rate of HIV infection in some regions. For example, in Uganda, the “highest recorded prevalence was 18.5% in 1992, and 30.5% among pregnant women . . . . These have both fallen to 6.4%” ten years later. The success was owing to “significant behaviour change, especially among the young generation, by delaying sex, reducing the number of sexual partners, using condoms” (“Uganda: Rising HIV infection–where did we lose it?”, New Vision (Kampala), 12 December 2006) –though these gains are now threatened because “married couples and rich women were found to be at high risk” and because of a high birth-rate, as remarked in earlier posts (18 November, TO AVOID HIV, DON’T GET MARRIED; 27 November, HIV DOUBLETHINK).
Uganda’s success has become widely known and commented on: “Uganda has won praise for its vigorous campaign against HIV/AIDS. It has helped to reduce the prevalence of the virus–which reached 30% in the 1990s–to single-digit figures” (BBC News, 17 August 2007).
Other African nations, too, have had some striking successes, even politically and economically fraught Zimbabwe: “the number of adults infected with the virus that causes AIDS has fallen to 15.6 percent this year compared with 18.1 percent in 2005 and 24.6 percent in 2003 . . . [according to] Health Minister David Parirenyatwa following a survey carried out by the United Nations Population Fund, Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council, and the country’s Ministry of Health” (Voice of America News, 31 October 2007). Though some skepticism was expressed about the validity of these numbers because of the flight of many people from Zimbabwe, “The new statistics have however been validated by some non-governmental organisations including the Centre for Disease Control and United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organisation” (Henry Makiwa, SW Radio Africa [London], 1 November 2007). “Roeland Monasch, Deputy Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) . . . [confirmed that the] rate has steadily decreased from 25.7 percent in 2002 to 21.3 percent in 2004, dropping to 17.7 in 2006” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 2 November 2007). Nevertheless, “An estimated 1 320 739 people are living with HIV and AIDS, 651 402 of them women and 132 938 being children under 14 years of age who probably contracted the virus at birth” (Peter Matambanadzo, “Country leads SADC in reducing HIV prevalence, incidence”, The Herald (Harare), 22 November 2007).
Kenya, too, has had notable success; indeed, “Kenya now leads in global war on AIDS, says UN” (Kevin J Kelley, The East African, 3 December 2007):
” Kenya is replacing Uganda as the global model of a country waging a successful campaign against the AIDS epidemic, a new UN report says. . . . the infection rate for HIV . . . [fell] from about 14 per cent in the mid-1990s to 5 per cent this year. . . . Kenya [is] among the six countries in the world that together account for 70 per cent of the global decline in HIV prevalence during the past year.”
* * * * * *
So in Uganda, during a decade the infection rate decreased by about 1.2% per year (but at twice that rate among pregnant women), and between 2002 and 2006 at 1.6% per year. In Kenya the decrease was about 1% per year for a decade. In Zimbabwe, the decline from 2002 to 2006 was at a rate of about 1.6% per year.
Innumerable stories in the media carried these good tidings. But was anyone who reported them thinking about these numbers? Here’s the problem. According to HIV/AIDS theory, HIV infection is permanent; once infected, you never get rid of the virus; once HIV-positive, you never become negative. Therefore, the only way that prevalence of HIV can decrease is if more infected people die than become newly infected. For the HIV infection rate to drop by 1%, then 1% of the population must die (plus a number equal to the count of newly infected people). Therefore the death rate in Kenya during the past decade must have been at least 1% of the population in excess of whatever the historically “normal” rate had been, in Uganda 1.2% (or more) in excess, and in Zimbabwe 1.6% in excess.
In Zimbabwe the overall, total death rate has held roughly steady at 2.1-2.5% per year during the last decade, of which–about two thirds of all deaths–must have been attributable to HIV. Therefore the historically “normal” rate would have been 2.1-2.5 minus 1.6, that is to say 0.5-0.9%.
For comparison, the death rate in Sweden has been about 1% during the last decades, for Japan about 0.9%, for the United States 0.8%. Obviously, these statistics mean that before the AIDS epidemic hit, Zimbabweans had a significantly longer life expectancy than did Swedes, Japanese, or Americans.
Not as long as Ugandans, though. In Uganda, the overall death rate has been about 1.3%, according to the CIA Fact Book. Since HIV-infected Ugandans have been dying at the rate of 1.2%, just about all the deaths during this period of decreasing prevalence of HIV were attributable to HIV. If it weren’t for that frightful epidemic, then, Ugandans would hardly have been dying at all, apparently they could live virtually for ever. So too in Kenya, with its overall death rate of 1.1% of which at least 1% was supposedly attributable to HIV.
Rian Malan pointed out, years ago already, that claims of HIV/AIDS deaths far exceeded anything observable on or under the ground, that they had not affected historical death rates, and that they were based not on observation but on bogus numbers generated by computers for UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (“AIDS in Africa: In search of the truth”, Rolling Stone Magazine, 22 November 2001; “Africa isn’t dying of AIDS”, The Spectator [London], 14 December 2003).
Words actually fail me, what to say about the institutions that continue to promulgate these bogus numbers, or about the media that parrot them. Above all, I can’t imagine what goes on with the presumably trained professionals who generate these numbers in the first place. Do they not think at all about what they are doing?
I suppose this lack of standing back to think about whether the numbers make sense goes naturally with generating ranges of uncertainty that are less for Third-World countries than for those in the First World (29 November, HIV/AIDS: NUMBERS THAT DON’T ADD UP). Or with the pervasive idiocy of the meaningless “significant” figures as in “estimated 1 320 739 . . . 651 402 of them women and 132 938 being children” (2 December, MATHEMATICAL AND STATISTICAL LIES ABOUT HIV/AIDS).
Not that general statements are necessarily more sensible than these exquisitely detailed ones. The global concern has been almost hysterical over these last couple of decades, about Africans dying from AIDS and the need for antiretroviral treatment that is only lately beginning to be met. Yet for all this time, in virtual absence of treatment against the raging epidemic, Africa’s population has been growing at a few percent per year. This is beginning to pose a tangible threat to already overburdened economies: “Recent reports from Uganda, Kenya and Burkina Faso show that concern over rapid population growth is once again becoming a matter of public concern”; even in Burkina Faso “which is among the very poorest in the world” (“Fresh population concerns in Africa, 29 October 2007, http://www.peopleandplanet.net/pdoc.php?id=3120).
The world’s official left hands are telling us that Africa is being decimated by a fatal, incurable disease that in some countries like Botswana has infected a third of the population. The world’s official right hands are wondering how to cope with the population explosion in Africa.
When will acknowledgment of reality, or just plain common sense, put an end to this nonsense? Instead of wasting money on antiretroviral drugs, will we ever address the need for food, clean water, and vitamins? Will officialdom ever concede that “HIV tests” don’t detect HIV?