AIDS & Africa, Again!
In Defense of Thabo Mbeki

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The AIDS crisis has always received great attention from African-Americans and Africans living on, or from the continent. Besides the deaths in Africa attributed to the disease, numerous people in various communities have questioned the theories about the place of origin and the cause of AIDS. Many suspicions and theories abound and Kalamu  magazine (IPOAA forerunner) has addressed many of them.


Thabo Mbeki
President of South Africa

Recently Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, had the "audacity" to place his concerns in writing. The response from the AIDS establishment (yes, there is one) was swift and condemning. A response in favor of Mr. Mbeki's refusal to accept all that appears from "established" sources recently appeared in The African Shopper, a free weekly distributed in Washington, DC.

Aids and Africa Again!
 In Defense of Thabo Mbeki 
by E. Ablorh-Odjida

You may have noticed the new wrinkle on the ongoing debate about AIDS and Africa: The controversy surrounding the letter President Mbeki of South Africa wrote to world leaders, and the new theory that the virus evolved in the 1930s, a time much earlier than previously thought, from a common human ancestor.

The assertion, that the human ancestor was African, is not new. This time, it comes with no Iess authority than that of the researchers at Los Alamos Lab, according to Associated Press.

So far the view has been that the virus evolved from SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) in a chimpanzee, which an African ate for dinner, and that virus then changed in the body of this African into HIV.  AIDS researchers are yet to explain how the simian virus jumped the species barrier between man and monkey. However, it is now a comfortable knowledge among this community that it happened in Africa.

It may well be that these scientists have the origin and time for the virus right. That still leaves out the problem Mbeki raised, which we will come to later. For now, we should ask whether the revelation is a reaction to Mbekis letter. Or, another attempt to rivet the AIDS' stigma on Africa some more, or a concealment effort by a guilty community to prevent legal scrutiny?

The history of counterfeit drug dumping on Africa, and apartheid practices of illegal chemical experimentations on humans ought not be discounted in the search for causes. But, the need to use the monkey, it seems, is greater; perhaps, so as to take advantage of the age old negative assumptions about Africa.

Evidence is also available that vaccine made to fight polio, with the aid of kidney cells from chimpanzee was, coincidentally, used widely in Africa and elsewhere in the 1950s. That possibility could absolve Africa from the original sin. But, the new date in the 1930s makes that eventuality moot.

Pushing the origin of the virus back to the 1930s may make legal sense.

Nevertheless, the determination to keep the origin of the virus in Africa is perplexing. if not macabre. It is as if AIDS were to originate elsewhere the disease would not strike with the same deadly potency!

There is one clear point about the debate on origin of AIDS. And that is, no continent wants to be associated with that stigma. And no community either. Not the homosexual or heterosexual communities in the West.

As necessary as the search for cure is, there is the urgency to ask the researchers whether they are also probing for AIDS' origin elsewhere other than Africa. Or, they will allow this peculiar hypothesis about AIDS origin to stand as medical fact? And wait to see this quaint hypothesis transform into cultural fact, for racial benefit, before the truth comes out?

The above is why Mbeki's letter is needed. Mbeki, as a leader of Africa's premier country and a champion of the continent must speak. He also must speak for the AIDS community; Africa, as widely known, is said to have two thirds of the entire AIDS population. However, this leader is being asked literally to shut up by traditional AIDS researchers.

Considering that Mbeki's letter never said that "HIV did not cause AIDS", but is accused by his critics for saying so, is enough to indicate that some in the research community are not entirely candid about the issues on AIDS. That outcome is not surprising. These researchers do not operate in cultural or political vacuum. Or, economic either.

Mbekis statement to science was simple. However, none of the furious criticisms ad dressed that statement. He said, "Whereas in the West HIV-AIDS is said to be largely homosexually transmitted, it is reported that in Africa, it is transmitted heterosexually." And then concluded that "whatever lessons we have to and may draw from the West about the grave issues of HIV-AIDS, a simple superimposition of Western experience on African reality would be absurd and illogical."

Keep in mind that the differences in AIDS type, between HIV in Africa and that experienced in the West, were drawn by scientists, not Mbeki the politician. So why are they disputing Mbeki's logic?

But how logical or scientific is the test for AIDS in some places in Africa. you would ask. Three symptoms; if one is emaciated, if one has diarrhea, and if one has persistent cough will he enough to make one an AIDS patient. The test in the West is more elaborate, and based on exact blood scrutiny.

This lax definition of AIDS has something to do with Africa's two-thirds share of the world's AIDS population. A credible test can reduce Africa's share considerably.

Leaders on the continent must bare some of the blame. Bad governance has reduced the continent to abject poverty. The resulting condition is enough to keep fouling the nest. And, smug satisfaction for foreign aid keeps the number of victims, including phantom ones, high. Under this condition, Mbeki will have difficulties proposing alternative consideration for AIDS research. Until then, Africa will provide safe haven for any disease of dubious origin.

If all it took is diet on monkey for the birth of AIDS, then let science find that tribe. Certainly, the eating habits of a people will not change abruptly in 70 years, or even hundred years past the current monkey mark, unless either hunter or prey is extinct. Whatever explains the survival of one should help to provide direction for the fight against the AIDS disease.

Eventually, science will discover the true origin of AIDS. Before then Africa may have to suffer under this scientific myth about (its) origin.

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