Massive airdrops of condoms wont stop African AIDS.
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, were 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, who has just accepted a full professorship 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 to his name and is currently advising the government of India on staunching its potentially explosive epidemic.
Yet San Francisco epidemiologist Nancy Padian evaluated 72 male partners of HIV-infected women over several years, during which time only one man was 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 its 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 allow vaginal HIV infection, but even those appear to increase the risk only by about 2-4 times.
So if vaginal intercourse cant explain the awful African epidemic, what can? Surely its not homosexuality, since weve 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 theyre 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.
You dont even need to go to a clinic to be injected with HIV: Almost two-thirds of 360 homes visited in sub-Saharan Africa had medical injection equipment that was apparently shared by family members. This, says Brody, can explain why both a husband and wife will be infected.
For those who care to look, there are many indicators that punctures play a huge role in the spread of disease. For example, during the 1990s HIV increased in Zimbabwe at approximately 12 percent annually, 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 whod given birth. If the kids didnt get the virus from their mothers or from sex, whence its origin? Investigations of large clinical outbreaks in Russia, Romania, and Libya demonstrate HIV can be readily transmitted through pediatric health care.
Until we stop HIV spread through needles, we wont stop HIV spread in Africa.
Theres no one reason for the mass deception. In part, once people have established any paradigm it becomes much easier to justify than challenge.
"These guys are wearing intellectual blinders," says Potterat. "Only a handful are even looking at routes other than sex. They have sex on the brain." Other reasons:
- Grant money goes to those who follow the dictates of the paradigm, not to those challenging it. "Sex is sexy," notes Potterat.
- Theres fear that blame for the epidemic will fall on the medical profession.
- To the extent vaginal sex does play a role in spreading the disease, theres fear people will stop worrying about it.
Read Michael Fumentos other work on diseases.