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Long Standing De Facto Gag Rule on HIV in ‘Africa’


The gag rule about abortion is not the only gag rule, and even the ‘global gag rule’ never went away in developing countries. Organizations running sexuality, HIV, reproductive health and other programs have long had to cover up anything that might appear to show a pro choice attitude of any kind.

They knew that funding, especially from the US, would be threatened by even appearing to be pro choice in any way.

But there is a much more pervasive gag rule relating to HIV in high prevalence countries, all of which are in Africa. The history of HIV has some very shocking aspects that you won’t hear much about through reading some of the better known literature.

A chapter from John Potterat’s Seeking the Positives, entitled ‘Why Africa?: The Puzzle of Intense HIV Transmission in Heterosexuals‘ is available free of charge on ResearchGate.net. Potterat delves into a long list of the things that those researching into and writing about HIV are not allowed to speak of openly, even when they are reporting findings from scientific research.

For example, many researchers and other professionals believe in African ‘hypersexuality’ as an explanation of hyperendemic HIV (which is only found in African countries). This is just a prejudice, but it informs the bulk of HIV writings in scientific journals. Here’s a quote from Catherine Hankins, who was an epidemiologist at UNAIDS, that would make a Trumpite redneck proud.

Many assume that HIV really is a threat to all, regardless of sexuality, location, circumstances, etc, and don’t realize that there was a decision made to present the virus that way to appease those who felt they were being stigmatized as being most at risk; Potterat refers to the ‘consensus’ emanating from the WHO and CDC in 1988, and elsewhere to ‘consensus epidemiology’. Facts have never had as high a status as consensus where HIV in high prevalence countries is concerned.

People who have never been to a high HIV prevalence country could be forgiven for accepting that the risks of HIV transmission from unsafe healthcare and other skin-piercing practices are extremely low. But this is also claimed by people who live and work in high prevalence countries.

In fact, foreigners working for big institutions such as UN bodies, are issued with a specially written booklet warning them to avoid healthcare facilities that haven’t been approved by them. Yet people living in these countries, who must avail of unsafe facilities are not warned.

Potterat notes that he and his colleagues were told by a high ranking official ‘not to tell African people’ that their healthcare facilities are so dangerous that foreigners are warned not to use them.

In reality, Potterat’s recommendation that people in high HIV prevalence African countries be warned about the risks they face, and that conditions in health facilities be improved, is a very modest one. People have a right to such information, and to safe facilities; so why the reluctance to inform them?

People have a right to accurate, accessible, appropriate health information under international human rights law. Politically motivate agreements about what to tell the public and, more importantly, what to tell people in high HIV prevalence countries, do not constitute such health information.

Reluctance, apparently, partly stems from the fact that CDC, WHO, UNAIDS and the like think it will ‘water down’ their ‘messages’ about ‘safe’ sex. In other words they want to continue lying about ‘African’ sexuality, as well as about unsafe healthcare. They don’t want to be exposed as having spent three decades not addressing the main drivers of HIV, and instead lying about sexual behavior in high HIV prevalence countries. Hankins uses that argument in the BBC article linked above.

These revelations from Potterat’s book are all shocking because we are left with the question of how many people would be alive today if they had known what these international health institutions all knew so long ago. Such questions were asked about the inaccurate information spread by Mbeki’s regime in South Africa, so why not ask the same of international health institutions, universities, donor countries and others?

Tens of millions of people have been infected with HIV in high prevalence countries since the 80s; how many of them would be HIV negative now if they had known the risks of unsafe healthcare? Half of them? More than half? Perhaps we’ll never know. But the lies are well documented in Potterat’s writings and must be followed up by the scientific community.

Take a look at: Seeking the positives, by John Potterat


In an important contribution to the history of medical research, John Potterat’s new book, Seeking the Positives, recounts his involvement in research on sexually transmitted disease and HIV. Chapter 7 recounts researchers’ failure to explain how so many Africans get HIV (chapter 7 is available for download at http://home.earthlink.net/~jjpotterat/book.html).

The AIDS epidemic has been a disaster for tens of millions of Africans. What has not been widely recognized is the damage to medical research – epidemiologists have not done what is required to show how so many Africans get HIV. In a closed-door meeting at WHO in 2003, John described HIV epidemiological research in Africa as: “First World researchers doing second class science in Third World countries.”

How will the medical research community rebuild competence after its deliberate incompetence in not explaining and thereby containing Africa’s AIDS epidemic?

John’s book offers much more than a history of HIV research failures. He and his staff at the Colorado Springs public health department reduced STD in the community. Working with researchers from CDC and elsewhere, they tested new control strategies and documented what works – demonstrating the importance of contact tracing and network analyses to understand and limit STD transmission. Research in Colorado Springs has had an impact on STD prevention programs around the world.

But this is not only history – the human costs of research failures are continuing. According to the latest UNAIDS’ estimate, 1.4 million Africans got HIV in 2014 (see:http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/AIDS_by_the_numbers_2015_en.pdf). If someone could tell Africans how they are getting HIV, they might be able to protect themselves and collectively to wind down their epidemic.

I recommend the book for reading in epidemiology classes – to foster truthniks and doubters, so we will have the experts we need in future health crises. When you get the book, I recommend you start with a brief look at Appendix 3, which lists individual and STD/HIV program awards.