Monday, May 5, 2008

The unspoken truths about Aids

[Via Great Britain's The Sunday Times Online, epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani says political correctness over criticising sexual practices such as multiple partners in Africa has prevented us finding an effective strategy to fight HIV. Check out Elizabeth's controversiall blog - The Wisdom of Whores]

After researching HIV for over a decade, I know that we now have the information, the tools and the money required to eradicate Aids in most of the world. But we’re not doing it – and that makes me very angry.

To be fair, Britain has been a world leader in sensible HIV prevention. Under Margaret Thatcher, we were the first country to fund clean needles for drug injectors at a national level, and to make methadone widely available so that heroin addicts could stop injecting. The result: fewer than one in 75 drug injectors in Britain is infected with HIV, compared with one in two in Indonesia, for example.

For all its sensible policies, though, Britain won’t give out needles in prison. Yet two-thirds of all injectors in Britain have been to prison at some point; and nearly a quarter of all male injectors in prison say they’ve shot up while inside. Meanwhile, taxpayers fund needle-exchange programmes in prisons in other countries through the Department for International Development. But in Britain, the Home Office dictates what happens in prison, and denial rules.

I call it the Three Monkeys approach to HIV: we close our eyes to people injecting drugs, to people buying and selling sex, to people getting plastered and getting laid. We close our eyes, in short, to all the things that do the most to spread HIV.

Yet we can’t close our eyes to the fact that nearly 60m people have been infected with a preventable, fatal disease. About 25m of those are already in their graves. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that two-thirds of people with HIV in the world are Africans. Yet few people ask why.

HIV is largely a sexually transmitted infection, so there must be something different about sex in Africa. Yet you can’t say that without appearing to be racist. So campaigners have come up with other reasons that HIV is worse in Africa: poverty, ignorance, men having more power than women. All politically correct, but not epidemiologically correct.

Read the rest.

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