Calls for prevention highlighted the opening day of the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto. Alas, it’s too late. On the same day the Washington Post, carried a photo on its front page depicting a man wearing a t-shirt reading: “We all have AIDS.” Toss out those condoms; forget abstinence, and don’t bother getting tested. Or what part of “all” don’t you understand?
Seriously, this bit of propaganda is but one illustration of how efforts against AIDS have always been handicapped by politics. Nobody really believes we all have AIDS. But many have bought into the “Everyone is at risk” nonsense, which clearly works against targeting those truly at risk. The entire science of epidemiology – which began when London physician John Snow mapped out cholera cases in his city and found they clustered around a single water pump – depends on identifying risk factors to ameliorate them. In Snow’s case, he simply removed the pump handle and the epidemic ended.
He was lucky he didn’t have to deal with activists carrying signs reading: “Water doesn’t cause cholera; ignorance and prejudice cause cholera!”
Since 1985, when Life magazine blared in huge red letters: “Now No One Is Safe from AIDS,” activists have fought furiously against the idea that AIDS targets those who engage in selective behaviors. Yet over two decades later AIDS remains in this country overwhelmingly a disease of homosexual males and intravenous drug users. Fewer than 39,000 Americans were diagnosed with AIDS in 2004 (latest data available), and fewer than 16,000 died from it. That’s about one in 770 and one in 1,875 respectively. Fact is, almost everybody is safe from AIDS.
But of course, the focus of this conference is on international AIDS, which we all know is wiping whole continents off the map. A high Ugandan official said that within two years his nation will “be a desert.” ABC News Nightline declared that within 12 years “50 million Africans may have died of AIDS.”
Problem is, those predictions were made in 1986 and 1988. Yet since 1985, Uganda’s population has fully doubled. Nightline’s 50 million dead by the year 2000 proved to be 20 million in 2005, according to the UN’s estimate. Further, “In sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the largest burden of the AIDS epidemic, data also indicate that the HIV incidence rate has peaked in most countries,” according to the 2006 UNAIDS Report.
Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .
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