I recently had a very interesting chat with my good friend, Steve Edwards, who is currently without his own blog – although probably not for much longer. He is a regular at libertarian.org.au, however. In the course of our conversation, he informed me that HIV risk-of-transmission rates are not nearly as high as I previously thought. Consider this – for every 10 000 exposures to an HIV-infected source, it is estimated 5 will contract HIV via insertive penile-vaginal intercourse. 10 will contract HIV via receptive penile-vaginal intercourse. These figures assume no use of a condom. Click the link for the risk via other routes of exposure.
This got us both thinking about the HIV/AIDS epidemic epicentre of Sub-Saharan Africa. Given the very low rate of HIV transmission through sexual intercourse, is it really feasible that a country like Botswana has an infection rate of 30%+? If the ratio mentioned above is correct, an African male with an average number of vaginal sexual encounters can have unprotected sex with only HIV positive partners for a lifetime and still stand a reasonable chance of not contracting the virus. How could a virus that difficult to catch spread through a population so comprehensively?
I am not saying that HIV/AIDS is not an enormous problem in Africa – of course it is. And I do not discount the anecdotal evidence of health professionals who report a multitude of AIDS orphans and hospitals groaning with AIDS-riddled patients. I am sure this is the case, however from the limited perspective of a person’s experiences, how could they possibly tell if this casualty rate represents 30% of a population of several million or 3%? 10% or 1%? Sick people do tend to cluster in hospitals, and health professionals go where the need is great. Given this working environment for doctors and nurses treating HIV in Africa, they could be forgiven for believing an inflated number. Conversely, if a foreign doctor spent a month in the wealthier parts of Nairobi, they would probably report to the folks back home that they saw no signs of HIV/AIDS at all.
I do not doubt that there is a large amount of research that has gone into producing the figures commonly cited when detailing the scope of the HIV outbreak in Africa. I would, however, ask sceptics to ponder the beneficiaries of an inflated threat of this disease. The NGOs, university teams and (most) African governments are in accord regarding the magnitude of the AIDS threat. To use the old saying; well – they would be, wouldn’t they? This issue is a magnet for foreign aid and grant money. After all, African despots need to keep their wives in the style they’ve become accustomed to. Not to mention one’s stooges who require regular buying off. NGOs need to run their fleets of SUVs, hold their conferences in five star hotels and generously employ their “support staff”. University professors need grants to carry out their research. I should not forget the UN – regarding that sprawling organisation’s potential conflicts of interest, the mind boggles. These people all have a stake in talking up the HIV/AIDS problem. These are also the people who provide us with data concerning HIV rates in Africa.
I am not a scientist, and I have no specific expertise in this field. I could be omitting important variables that make the scale of the HIV/AIDS problem in Africa that we’re told about more tenable. However, when considering the far lower than popularly believed HIV contraction rates, I smell a rat. What makes me even more suspicious is the fact that the beneficiaries of an overinflated HIV threat in Africa appear to be African governments, NGOs and foreign researchers. Even in rich nations, resources are scarce. We need accurate information to distribute them in optimal fashion. Please set me straight if I am wrong to question, but are we being lied to about the scope of the HIV/AIDS problem in Africa?