Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) likes to advertise itself as “the most trusted” something or other. Yet in July 2012 its FRONTLINE series featured a drastic and misleading rewriting of history in the program, “ENDGAME: AIDS IN BLACK AMERICA”, billed as “A groundbreaking two-hour exploration of one of the country’s most urgent, preventable health crises”. This was written, produced, and directed by Renata Simone, who has been covering HIV/AIDS since 1987 and therefore had every opportunity to know better than to get crucial facts so wrong.
The central misdirection:
is a labored attempt to rewrite how AIDS has affected black Americans. AIDS has become essentially an African-American disease after beginning as essentially a gay disease affecting blacks to only about the extent to which they are present in the population as a whole. There has been a dramatic quantitative change from that beginning, and the reasons for it are quite clear: the re-definition of AIDS as requiring a positive HIV test and the fact that the tests are racially biased. ENDGAME, however, alleges that from the very beginning black Americans were affected by AIDS about as severely as they are now. That is plainly, undeniably wrong. Official numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that blacks accounted for less than 30% of AIDS cases in the early 1980s, but 60% by the end of the 1990s (MMWR 50 #21), and by 2010 black Americans were being diagnosed with AIDS at the rate of 43/100,000 compared to 4.4 for white Americans, 13.7 for Hispanics, 9.7 for Pacific Islanders, 7.2 for mainland Native Americans, and 3.5 for Asians (CDC Surveillance Report #22).
The labored case, that African Americans had been severely affected from the earliest days, had Dr. Michael Gottlieb saying that there were appreciable numbers of black Americans among early AIDS cases, it was just that no one thought to mention it; the first 5 were white, #6 was a Haitian, but #7 was an African American. Exactly: one out of seven, just as in the population as a whole; not, as in 2012, diagnosed at ten times the rate of diagnosis of white Americans; in 2010, Gottlieb would have seen 3 black AIDS cases for every 2 white case, not 1 in 7. Dr. David Ho seconds the view that appreciable numbers of AIDS cases were among African Americans, it just happened not to have been noted or reported anywhere, especially not to the CDC, apparently. Phill Wilson, founder and Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute, asserts that gay African-Americans in Chicago just presumed AIDS was a West-Coast phenomenon — but it’s not at all clear how AIDS could not have been noticed in black communities in Chicago if appreciable numbers had been exhibiting the blatant symptoms of Kaposi’s sarcoma, thrush, and Pneumocystis carinii (now jiroveci) pneumonia. A lady in Oakland explains that gay blacks there, which is 45% black, didn’t talk about “HIV” in the early days whereas everyone was talking about it in San Francisco which has only 4% African Americans; and others support her opinion that it wasn’t talked about in Oakland because of certain features of black culture: keeping secrets, especially about being gay. But no one was talking about “HIV” in the early days (~1980-84), because it hadn’t yet been discovered; and, again, had AIDS been rampant, it would have been obvious.
Much of the nonsense in this program illustrates the damage done by taking HIV and AIDS as synonymous.
Iatrogenic harm to African Americans:
HIV/AIDS theory has caused inestimable damage to untold black Americans by breaking up relationships (see examples cited at p. 247 in The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory). ENDGAME illustrates this vividly with the story of Nell, a middle-aged widow who re-married and later discovered a letter from a blood bank to her husband advising him to seek medical assistance because his blood had tested “HIV-positive”. This story is featured more than once in ENDGAME, yet nowhere are two vital points made:
1. For screening in blood banks, tests for any condition are made as sensitive as possible, at the cost of lower specificity: it is essential that no infected blood be used, so false positives do not matter, it’s better to discard some perfectly good blood than to infect someone. Therefore there is a high proportion of false positives on blood-bank screening tests.
2. Specifically for HIV, all the respectable mainstream sources stress the need for confirmatory tests after an initial positive.
Yet nowhere is the point made in ENDGAME that Nell’s husband’s “positive” test should not and could not be accepted on its face as a diagnosis of infection, in absence of further testing.
Other black women are shown who had similar experiences and immediately blamed their partners for infecting them. Yet copious data show that black women are about 20 times as likely to test “HIV-positive” as white women, no matter what the reason may be — and there are dozens of possible reasons for testing “HIV-positive” that have nothing to do with a sexually transmitted retrovirus. One young lady describes her foolishness in having intercourse with an older man who had charmed her, only to fall ill within weeks of a mysterious illness that brought her to death’s door before doctors realized it was AIDS. Nell, too, relates that she felt ill already during her honeymoon. Whatever happened to the average latent period of about 10 years between infection and illness? Has there ever been an officially described case of AIDS following so soon after infection? Did “HIV” in her case collapse the immune system almost instantaneously?
There are plenty of other aspects of ENDGAME that deserve censure. A stylistic one concerns the narration. You need to listen to it yourself, because I don’t quite know how to describe it: the voice is somewhat hushed, breathless, low-pitched — one might take it as coming from a severely depressed woman; at the same time it is portentous, rather like the lead-in to the punch line of a horror story.
In terms of substance, many dangerous shibboleths are disseminated, for instance that the epidemic in the black community could have been nipped in the bud, were it not for “silence”, “stigma”, lack of testing, lack of treatment.
Many of the comments from a range of individuals indicates that illness and death in the black community are almost routinely ascribed to HIV/AIDS.
Phill Wilson tells at least a whitish lie when he describes himself as “HIV-positive” for 32 years, given that there was no HIV and no HIV tests for the first five of those years. He also insinuates that antiretroviral drugs have kept him healthy all those years. If so, he must be a very rare survivor of AZT poisoning from 1987 to 1996, when about 150,000 individuals were killed by AZT.
The fact of the matter is that no amount of testing and no amount of safe sex and no amount of pre-exposure prophylaxis will alter the relative rates at which black, white, Asian and Hispanic Americans and Native Americans test “HIV-positive”. Those rates have remained the same for a quarter of a century, because the tests are racially biased; something in the tests responds to racially correlated genetics — see the copious official data collated in The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory.
ENDGAME closes on a supposedly optimistic note by mentioning that the US government announced a new strategy in 2010, focusing on 12 cities most severely affected by AIDS. Washington DC leads, with “5-8%” of the adult population infected. Phill Wilson points out that if the African-American community were a country, it would rank 16th in the world for prevalence of HIV/AIDS and would qualify for assistance under the PEPFAR program.
Predicting is fraught with pitfalls, especially predicting the future, as Yogi Berra reminded us. But I make this prediction with utter confidence. Nothing will prevent blacks from testing “HIV-positive” at rates of between about 5 and about 20 (in the lower range for males and the upper ones for females). Administering prophylactic antiretroviral drugs will lead to increased rates of illness and death.
What I cannot predict is how long it will take for this genocide to become undeniably obvious.
ENDGAME is replete with well-meaning, well-intentioned, dedicated individuals spouting shibboleths that are factually wrong and whose consequences in action and in practice are bringing enormous harm to innumerable people.