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April 08, 2006

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Chuckles

Simply brilliant. Though The Village Voice blew the cover off of this many years back. Its interesting isnt it; how you meet so many West Africans and some of them express skepticism about AIDS and you ask why and they are like "We just dont see anybody dying of AIDS" (The same response is given to Poverty and Famine btw). Not minding the potentially lackadaisical attitude this conveys, it has always served to illustrate to me that the AIDS crises of popular media imagination was predominantly a race problem - where blacks and gays were held as scapegoats by the West, due primarily, to their voicelessnes. Once the race rea"lie"sts jumped on it though, it was game over.
This meme has spread far and wide, with popular stereotypes of the JIV infected black boyfriend now permanent fixtures in the far East and in several Scandinavian countries, despite the relatively low black populations of these areas.
Furthermore, the key issue here is the urban nature of the disease - a problem directly tied to the rural migrations of post independence and the resulting urban poverty - which drove many into promiscuous lifestyles: Reverse migration to the rural areas completed the cycle.
The sad thing of course, is how racial bias never factors into the supposed self examination that much of the Media purports to hold in such high esteem. The question of "Why" such high estimates were reported doesnt appear in the WaPo story, Neither is it appearing on the PBS documentary on AIDS: This will turn out to be just another media event dumped into the trash bin of History (much like Super Soviet Russia of cold war years); with the attendant policy and public damages inflicted left unaccounted for.

PS:
So after I typed my comment, I shuffled over to Technorati and made a round up of the blogs covering this. As I expected, I found no mention of the Racial Bias inherent in driving this story all along. Even Bryan Caplan who had some good things to say made no mention of how bias against gays and homosexuals drove this media event; preferring instead to talk about "credibility" and "protection" - as though the credibility researchers were trying so hard to protect wasnt itself hinged on some perverse social narrative about "out groups".
Or how condescension and pretensions to intellectual superiority caused the media to fail to listen to the many African voices who warned right from the start that the issue was being overstated - until those voices were themselves co-opted by the UN and the Western narrative.

You know whats bad? This will provide ammunition to the denialists - and perhaps the world will finally get the Real African AIDS Crisis (TM) that is has been desiring all along. Absolutely pathetic.

Ross

"blacks and gays were held as scapegoats by the West, due primarily, to their voicelessnes."

But wasn't it largely gay organisations that were promoting the idea of an imminent Aids epidemic in the West during the 1980s? When it failed to materialise people switched to Africa as the object of the doom mongering.

When I read the Washington Post article it reminded me of something I saw a couple of years ago by a South African called Rian Malan, who was pointing out that the epidemilogical estimates of Aids rates in Africa were contradicted by most statistics that relied on actually testing people rather than computer models. For example BBC asserted that ‘one in seven’ Malawian teachers would die in 2002 alone.' The total death rate for the group was actually under 3%. The Spectator had claimed that "Botswana may soon become the first nation in modern times literally to die out." It is actually growing at 2.7% per annum. I have to admit when I first read it I assumed he was a crank, but he appears to be vindicated.

The column is reproduced here, (it originally appeared in the Spectator) http://www.lewrockwell.com/spectator/spec192.html

Andrew

"Africa as one big, undifferentiated, hopelessly diseased continent"

I noticed this (again) when I saw 'The Interpreter' last year - when they introduced Matobo for the first time, they displayed the text "Matobo, Africa" as if Africa were a country and as if to invoke the image of the featureless 'heart of darkness' Africa. You'd never see that with made-up countries on other continents, like "Molvania, Europe"...

David B

I recall posting on this subject a couple of years ago - see here: http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/001473.html

But it's very difficult to get at the truth on such matters. In my post I argued that some people have a vested interest in overstating the incidence of AIDS, but equally, some people (e.g. some African Governments) may have an interest in playing it down.

Chuckles

[...But wasn't it largely gay organisations that were promoting the idea of an imminent Aids epidemic in the West during the 1980s...]

I am referring to the stereotyping of the disease here. The voices of gay AIDS activists did nothing to stop discussions about the "Gay Plague" as recently as the 1990s and I believe last year, I saw an article by Micheal Fumento (The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS) on Frontpage - arguing, amongst other things, that the spread of AIDS even in Africa was the result of homosexuality (and then he tries to debunk the "Africans arent Homosexuals" meme and ascribe a significant aspect of the cause of the epidemic to African gays all in a couple of sentences). So you can see, that even in the 21st century - regardless of how many gay and African AIDS activists there are; powerful themes still run through the West which stereotype the disease - which was basically my contention. Indeed, the heavy presence of gays and Africans among activists might only reinforce these stereotypes in the minds of certain persons...

[...they displayed the text "Matobo, Africa"...]

Ah Yes...The "Africa is a country and Nelson Mandela is its President" meme. This one pops up in countless ways, "Lagos, Africa", "Accra, Africa" - but notice, it is never "Cairo, Africa", hardly "Tripoli, Africa", or even "Cape Town, Africa". Yesssssssssss, I wonder why? You might recollect in Kill Bill (Vol 2) where the one eyed lady goes on about a snake in Africa (yes, the magic word again) and then she says something like "the natives of Africa say...this has been true in Africa since the beginning of time."

@ David B:

Hmm, the post doesnt say anything about African governments playing down the crisis. Though I must say, with the money now coming in, it seems African governments would be interested in overstating the crisis. Its not as difficult to get the truth as it seems; no one seems to have a problem with observing or modeling Malaria for instance.

Andrew

"Its not as difficult to get the truth as it seems; no one seems to have a problem with observing or modeling Malaria for instance."

I thought this was because it's obvious when someone has malaria, or at least more so than with HIV - if you have malaria, you're obviously sick and you're likely to go to the doctor (if there is one), whereas with HIV you'll have no symptoms for many years.

Chuckles

[...if you have malaria, you're obviously sick and you're likely to go to the doctor...]

From the WaPo story: The AIDS models were drawn from prenatal clinic tests. And there is a paucity of Doctors in rural areas vis-a-vis malaria. Besides, there is a fallacy here: If HIV werent so obvious, and this was the modeling problem; then the epidemic should have been *understated* not *overblown*, right? Some people wanted an epidemic and when Africans werent delivering one quickly enough, they just turned around and invented it themselves.

Andrew

"If HIV werent so obvious, and this was the modeling problem; then the epidemic should have been *understated* not *overblown*, right"

Well not necessarily - the modelers probably figured that HIV would be under-reported because of lack of symptoms, stigma, refusal to be tested, and thus compensated - as it turns out overcompensated - for those factors. Of course this assumption (like the assumption that HIV+ rates would be similar in rural villages as in urban young women) is itself based, consciously or unconsciously, on the assumption that the HIV epidemic must be huge...

David B

My comment on African governments maybe playing down the problem was partly with South Africa in mind. Haven't SA politicians been reluctant to acknowledge the scale of AIDS, because they don't want to pay for the necessary drugs? Or am I confusing it with a reluctance to accept HIV as the cause of AIDS? Didn't Mbeki give comfort to the Duisberg heresy? Apologies if I'm misremembering all this...

Incidentally, on the subject of circumcision, I doubt that it gives *much* protection. The USA, where most men are circumcised, has higher HIV incidence than Western Europe, where most men are not. And in South Africa, if I recall correctly, the main ethnic group has its boys circumcised around puberty. It would be unwise to give the impression that you can get circumcised and then not worry about infection!

Abiola

"Incidentally, on the subject of circumcision, I doubt that it gives *much* protection"

Why don't you just read the PLoS study then, or browse through the many others on PubMed?

"The USA, where most men are circumcised, has higher HIV incidence than Western Europe, where most men are not."

As if this establishes anything. One would think you'd never taken a statistics class, seeing such naive reasoning.

"And in South Africa, if I recall correctly, the main ethnic group has its boys circumcised around puberty."

If you'd done your homework you'd know that the uncircumcised Zulu groups have a much higher HIV incidence rate than the circumcised Xhosa.

"It would be unwise to give the impression that you can get circumcised and then not worry about infection!"

And who exactly are the individuals going about doing any such thing? I suggest you better inform yourself of the realities of the debate surrounding the issue rather than relying on your vague and clearly flawed impressions.

Randy McDonald

"[F]or nearly two decades now we've been bombarded with reports suggesting that virtually 1 in every 3 men, women and children living south of the Sahara desert was an HIV carrier[.]"

1 in 3? I don't remember that. A "high" proportion, yes, and talk of proportions that high in the AIDS belt countries of southern Africa. That proportion, no.

David B

>> "The USA, where most men are circumcised, has higher HIV incidence than Western Europe, where most men are not."

As if this establishes anything. One would think you'd never taken a statistics class, seeing such naive reasoning.

"And in South Africa, if I recall correctly, the main ethnic group has its boys circumcised around puberty."

If you'd done your homework you'd know that the uncircumcised Zulu groups have a much higher HIV incidence rate than the circumcised Xhosa. <<


-- Well, hoity-toity! You accuse me of statistical naivety, then two sentences later use *exactly* the same 'naive' reasoning! What the US/Europe contrast does prove (and what I used it to prove) is that circumcision, by itself, gives little protection against HIV. And since it gives little protection, it is irresponsible to advocate it as a major anti-HIV precaution. This can only give 'naive' reasoners (i.e. most of the world's population) the impression that if they are circumcised they don't need to wear a condom.

Abiola

"1 in 3? I don't remember that. A "high" proportion, yes, and talk of proportions that high in the AIDS belt countries of southern Africa. That proportion, no."

My my, we're a little too literal-minded today, aren't we? Ever heard of rhetorical hyperbole? Are you going to accuse me of error the next time I say "Everybody and his brother is claiming X"?

"You accuse me of statistical naivety, then two sentences later use *exactly* the same 'naive' reasoning!"

By god, that's stupid! You made two claims as "proof" for something, and I offered two easily found pieces of evidence you were ignorant of to show how unfounded your absurd claims were. You said HIV rates didn't differ between circumcised and uncirmcumcised South Africans, and the fact is that you were as wrong in your claim as it is possible to be. What I was trying to establish was just how profound your ignorance was, not trying to duplicate the PLoS study in a blog comment, and your red herring here can't obscure the fact that my aim was quite clearly achieved: you were (and likely still are) speaking from a position of ignorance.

"What the US/Europe contrast does prove (and what I used it to prove) is that circumcision, by itself, gives little protection against HIV."

It "proves" nothing of the sort - that's what studies of the kind published in PLoS are for. It's the height of statistical stupidity to ignore possible differences in behavior and background when making comparisons of the sort you're trying to: you might as well say that smoking doesn't cause cancer because nonsmokers in a concentration camp die as soon as smokers.

"And since it gives little protection, it is irresponsible to advocate it as a major anti-HIV precaution. "

Yeah, a 70% cut in infection risk is "little protection" ... Whatever.

Randy McDonald

"My my, we're a little too literal-minded today, aren't we?"

Not especially.

"Ever heard of rhetorical hyperbole?"

I have. It doesn't work well when you're quoting specific figures.

"Are you going to accuse me of error the next time I say 'Everybody and his brother is claiming X'?"

If they aren't claiming X, sure. I haven't heard any claims at all suggesting that one-third of the population of sub-Saharan Africa was HIV positive. I haven't heard of anyone reputable who _has_ claimed this.

This doesn't contradict your central point, that rates of HIV seropositivity have been overestimated throughout most of Africa, in many cases wildly overestimated. I don't disagree with your point. I just think you overreached with your rhetoric. Call my objection something aesthetic, if you'd like.

Stephen

Aids in Africa is systematically overstated

Do you actually believe the goverments of Africa keep a acturate count of Hiv-Aids stats ?
When 1 of 3 Africans die of Aids, it is generally told the person died of TB , Malaria, ect ect.
This is true because the person did not actually die of Aids, they died of some opportunistic disease.

Is it overstated , understated or inflated !

We really don't know the truth.

Abiola

"When 1 of 3 Africans die of Aids, it is generally told the person died of TB , Malaria, ect ect."

And how did YOU come up with your "1 of 3 Africans" figure, seeing as you claim African governments don't have such statistics? Are you trying to say you're the only one in the world who "really knows" the truth?

Save your prejudiced, ignorant rubbish for someone else.

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