Before coming to Ghana, I was unaware that there was such a thing as an “AIDS controversy.”
My limited knowledge on the subject of AIDS and its transmission could be collapsed into three general premises: 1. AIDS, a terminal disease characterized by a general breakdown of the immune system, has become a rampant epidemic; 2. AIDS is sexually transmitted; 3. AIDS is most prevalent in Africa due to a lack of safe sex practices.
So, naturally, when I was first exposed to ideas that the AIDS epidemic has been blown out of proportion, that its link with sex is questionable, and that poverty more than promiscuity has exacerbated AIDS in Africa, I was a little taken aback. In fact, I was tempted to disregard these controversial claims as a well cooked up conspiracy theory.
However, the problem is that even the most far-fetched conspiracy theories can turn out to be true.
Recall the days leading up to the Iraq invasion: Anti-war protestors were deemed conspiracy theorists and terrorist-loving hippies for entertaining thoughts that the war was more about oil than weapons of mass destruction. Fast forward to reports of soldiers being given orders to secure oil fields before weapons warehouses and suddenly it seems like the kooky liberals were on to something.
The same holds true for the AIDS controversy — the more I dissected the subject, the more I started to suspect the validity in conventional thinking about the disease.
Take the notion that AIDS is an out-of-control epidemic. The World Health Organization in Geneva is responsible for recording all registered AIDS cases worldwide. In its calculations, the WHO recognizes that an unknown percentage of AIDS patients will be unaccounted for, therefore, they multiply cases in order to reach a more accurate number.
The multiplication figure, however, increases arbitrarily each year. In 1996, for instance, the WHO multiplied the number of registered AIDS cases in Africa by 12, in 1997 by 17, and 1998 by 47.
Obviously, the reporting of AIDS cases has undergone some drastic inflation. The number of people living with AIDS should be questioned for another reason as well, but this time it’s false diagnosing and not simple arithmetic that should set off some alarms.
The operational definition of AIDS in Africa, as adopted by the 1985 WHO conference in Bangui, Central African Republic, classifies someone with AIDS as having a combination of the following symptoms: 10 percent or more body weight loss in a 30 to 60 day period, chronic diarrhea, cough, persistent fever, swollen lymph glands and anemia.
According to Professor Helen Lauer of the University of Ghana, “there is no uniformity in the diagnosis of AIDS for the African continent. This is a chief reason why some medical researchers and clinicians are provoked to conclude: ‘The Bangui definition simply relabels symptoms of poverty as AIDS.'”
In further analyzing the link between AIDS and poverty, Lauer wrote:
“Beginning in 2002 a spike in the mortality of young women born during the 1983 famine were reported in Ghana, ostensibly indicating an increase in HIV-related deaths. Since the 1980s more than 25 percent of all African children have been undernourished. What happens to the immune system of a person who is undernourished in utero and survives as a neonate in the midst of famine?”
Well, the immune system is shot. And what again is AIDS in its simplest form? Answer: The annihilation of the immune system.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that the peak of the AIDS epidemic in Africa came during a time when most African countries were experiencing the wrath of International Monetary Fund structural adjustment policies.
Consider these facts and figures the icing on the cake of the AIDS controversy. The deeper issue here is who stands to gain from the six billion responses to AIDS, the subject of another article altogether.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.