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Is AIDS Devastating Africa?

According to the 1999 World Health Organization (WHO) report, the total number of actual diagnosed AIDS cases on the African continent is about equal to the total for AIDS in America even though Africa, with its 650 million people, has more than two times the population of the USA. (61) Africa is often cited as a worst case example of what could happen in America despite figures that demonstrate that 99.5% of Africans do not have AIDS, and among Africans who test HIV positive, 97% do not have AIDS. (62)

Unlike in the United States, AIDS in Africa may be diagnosed based on four clinical symptoms -- fever, involuntary loss of 10% of normal body weight, persistent cough, and diarrhea -- and HIV tests are not required. (63) The four clinical AIDS symptoms are identical to those associated with conditions that run rampant on the African continent such as malaria, tuberculosis, parasitic infections, the effects of malnutrition, and unsanitary drinking and bathing water. These symptoms are the result of poverty and other problems that have troubled Africa and other developing areas of the world for many decades.

The idea that AIDS originated in Africa remains popular although there has never been scientific or epidemiological evidence to substantiate this notion. News reports suggesting that HIV began in Africa as Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) are based on elaborate speculation about species-jumping viruses rather than reliable evidence.

SIV induces only flu like symptoms in some experimental laboratory monkeys and does not cause any of the 29 official AIDS-defining illnesses. Unlike HIV infection which is said to cause illness only years after exposure and despite the presence of protective antibodies, SIV will cause illness within days of infection or not at all, and wild monkeys retain SIV antibodies throughout their lives without ever becoming ill. Only monkeys in unnatural circumstances -- lab animals with undeveloped immune systems who are injected with large quantities of SIV -- become ill. (65)

In a recent attempt to advance the hypothesis of an SIV/HIV connection, researchers used the results of nonspecific antibody tests to claim that three chimpanzees captured in West Africa had been infected with HIV/SIV through sexual transmission. Efforts to isolate actual virus from the animals revealed that two of the three chimps had no virus, while the researchers admitted that the virus found in the one was not even closely related to HIV. Their report also failed to explain why the "infected" animals did not transmit HIV/SIV to any of the 150 other chimps living in the colony where they were kept, or why their mates and offspring did not test positive. (66)

While Africa is the frequent subject of dramatic media reports, actual numbers of diagnosed AIDS cases on the continent are relatively unremarkable. For example, 1981 through 1999 cumulative AIDS cases for South Africa, the new epicenter of AIDS, total just 12,825. (67)

Wednesday November 25, 1998

Kenya Slow to Face Up to AIDS Scourge

by Rosalind Russell

NAIROBI, KENYA (Reuters) - According to U.N. estimates, a Kenyan dies of AIDS every three minutes...

Unfounded estimates, rather than unprotected sex, are responsible for the alarming number of AIDS cases said to occur in Africa. United Nations' AIDS estimates were cited as the inspiration for a recent news report claiming "a Kenyan dies of AIDS every three minutes." (68) If Kenyans were dying at this rate, there would be more than twice as many dead Kenyans in just one year than have ever been actually diagnosed with AIDS in the entire period of time known as the AIDS epidemic.

In 1987, the WHO estimated there were 1 million HIV positives in Uganda, the nation then considered the epicenter of AIDS. Ten years later, WHO estimates for Uganda remained unchanged at 1 million HIV positives while the total of actual AIDS cases through 1999 are less than 55,000 in this country of more than 20 million people. (69)

AIDS is not, as many believe, Africa's primary health threat; several million cases of tuberculosis and malaria are reported each year in Africa while total AIDS cases on the continent for the entire AIDS epidemic hover just above one-half million. For example, in 1996 there were 170,000 cases of tuberculosis reported in Ethiopia and less than 850 cases of AIDS; South Africa's tuberculosis cases topped 91,000 compared to 729 diagnosed cases of AIDS. In fact, AIDS is not the leading cause of illness or death in any African country. (70)

Because of the high incidence of exposure to malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases that produce false positive results on HIV tests, many mainstream scientists question the validity of HIV testing in Africa. (71)

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