The African heterosexual AIDS myth

Posted: Apr 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Ninety-nine percent of AIDS and HIV cases in Africa come from sexual transmission, virtually all heterosexual. So says the World Health Organization, with other agencies toeing the line. Massive condom airdrops accompanied by a persuasive propaganda campaign would practically make the epidemic vanish overnight. Or would it?

A determined renegade group of three scientists has fought for years ? with little success ? to get out the message that no more than a third of HIV transmission in Africa is from sexual intercourse and most of that is anal. By ignoring the real vectors, they say, we?re sacrificing literally millions of people.

These men are no crackpots. John Potterat is author of 140 scholarly publications. He began working for the El Paso County, Colorado health department in 1972 and initiated the first U.S. partner-tracing program for AIDS/HIV.

Stuart Brody, soon to become a full professor in Psychology at University of Paisley in Scotland, has published over 100 scholarly publications, including a book called ?Sex at Risk.? Economist and anthropologist David Gisselquist has almost 60 scholarly publications and is currently advising the government of India on staunching its potentially explosive AIDS epidemic.

These renegades note that one indicator the role of vaginal transmission is overplayed in Africa is that it hasn?t played much of one in the U.S. Here 12 percent of AIDS cases are ?attributed to? heterosexual transmission, meaning victims claimed to have gotten it that way. Of these, over a third are males.

Yet San Francisco epidemiologist Nancy Padian evaluated 72 male partners of HIV-infected women over several years, during which time only one man became infected. Even in that case, there were ?several instances of vaginal and penile bleeding during intercourse.? So even the small U.S. heterosexual figure appears grossly exaggerated.

The chief reason it?s so hard to spread HIV vaginally is that, as biopsies of vaginal and cervical tissue show, the virus is unable to penetrate or infect healthy vaginal or cervical tissue. Various sexually transmitted diseases facilitate vaginal HIV infection, but even those appear to increase the risk only slightly.

So if vaginal intercourse can?t explain the awful African epidemic, what can? Surely it?s not homosexuality, since we?ve been told there is none in Africa. In fact, the practice has long been widespread.

For example, German anthropologist Kurt Falk reported in the 1920s that bisexuality was almost universal among the male populations of African tribes he studied. Medical records also show that African men who insist they?re straighter than the proverbial arrow often suffer transmissible anorectal diseases.

Yet almost certainly greater ? and more controllable ? contributors to the African epidemic are ?contaminated punctures from such sources as medical injections, dental injections, surgical procedures, drawing as well as injecting blood, and rehydration through IV tubes,? says Brody.

There are many indicators that punctures play a huge role in the spread of African HIV/AIDS. For example, during the 1990s HIV increased dramatically in Zimbabwe, even as condom use increased and sexually transmitted infections rapidly fell.

Or consider that in a review of nine African studies, HIV prevalence in inpatient children ranged from 8.2% to 63% ? as many as three times the prevalence in women who?d given birth. If the kids didn?t get the virus from their mothers, whence its origin?

Good people differ on exactly how much of the HIV in Africa is spread vaginally ? including our three renegades themselves. Nevertheless, their findings readily belie the official figures. AIDS studies in Africa, Potterat says, are ?First World researchers doing second rate science in Third World countries.?

There?s no one reason for the mass deception. In part, once a paradigm has been established it becomes much easier to justify than challenge. ?Only a handful [of researchers] are even looking at routes other than sex,? notes Potterat. He also observes that grant donors seem only interested in the sex angle. ?Sex is sexy,? he says.

Brody also points out that for scientists to concede they were wrong would be ?to admit they?re complicit in mass death. That?s hard to admit that to yourself, much less to other people.?

True enough. But for the sake of millions in Africa and other underdeveloped areas threatened by massive new infections, we?d better admit it now.

Michael Fumento (fumento[at] is author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, and a nationally syndicated columnist with Scripps Howard News Service.