A short article about HIV from the British Medical Journal, written in 1992 (pre-UNAIDS) sheds some light on an early piece of HIV myth-making. Though over 20 years old, the article has a very recent feel to it. Apparently someone at the time predicted that “by the year 2000, 90% of HIV infections would be acquired through heterosexual intercourse”.
UNAIDS, in all its extravagance, currently claims that 80% (sometimes 80-90%) of HIV transmissions are a result of heterosexual sex. The 1992 article also goes through the same illogical contortions that UNAIDS now specializes in: “At an antenatal clinic in Kigali, Rwanda, no less than a quarter of women with only one lifetime partner had been infected with HIV, presumably by their steady partner.”
It probably wasn’t yet clear in 1992 that HIV prevalence among those receiving antenatal care (ANC) were not representative of the population as a whole. Even if ‘a quarter’ of women were infected, it was shown later that nowhere near that proportion of men were infected; also, prevalence in Kigali, being a city, is far higher than in the country as a whole.
The paragraph begins by talking about risk, before going on to women who only have one lifetime partner; hence the ‘presumption’ that it is the men who take the risk and then infect their wives/partners. These twin assumptions, that in Africa HIV is almost always transmtted through sex and that it is almost always men who ‘spread’ the virus, became the backbone of UNAIDS and HIV industry dogma, and remain so to this day.
Enough is now known about transmission rates to suggest that 25% of ANC patients were not infected through heterosexual sex, that many of them, perhaps all of them, were infected through some other route. Perhaps the women even went on to infect their partners, rather than the other way around.
But UNAIDS now has a rigorously flawed model to ‘prove’ that most of the people ‘at risk’ of being infected through heterosexual sex (ie, most people in high prevalence African countries) do not engage in risky behavior at all. Some of the flaws are highlighted in a post that appeared on this blog recently.
At some early stage in the history of HIV it became anathema to talk about how someone may have become infected with HIV in Western countries, and the industry came up with the myth that everyone was at risk, something many people still believe. However, it was well recognized by those working with HIV that few people were at risk unless they were men who had sex with men or injecting drug users.
But we are not supposed to say that. It was quickly established that HIV positive people in African countries were not very often men who had sex with men (even then there were more women infected than men) or people who injected drugs. So it was hypothesized, on the basis of no evidence to support and plenty to contest, that heterosexual sex must be responsible for the bulk of transmissions.
Continuing a long tradition of blaming the victims in developing countries, and refusing to investigate unsafe healthcare, (peer-reviewed) paper after paper begins with the unquestioned assumption that almost all HIV transmission in African countries results from heterosexual sex. But we wouldn’t want to stigmatize people; so we don’t attempt to trace their infections, dear me no.