I've never doubted that AIDS is a problem very much in need of tackling in the developing world, including in Africa, but for 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, giving rise to all sorts of daft theories by so-called "race realists" and even supposedly sober economists about the wayward sexual proclivities of black Africans; now comes evidence from a credible source that the statistics which gave birth to all this armchair theorizing have been drastically inflated.
KIGALI, Rwanda -- Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.Quite incredible to go from 30 percent to 13 percent to arrive at 3 percent, isn't it? But wait, there's more!
But AIDS deaths on the predicted scale never arrived here, government health officials say. A new national study illustrates why: The rate of HIV infection among Rwandans ages 15 to 49 is 3 percent, according to the study, enough to qualify as a major health problem but not nearly the national catastrophe once predicted.
The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.
First, some reading for those inclined to buy into the "Africa as one big, undifferentiated, hopelessly diseased continent" lovingly, insistently peddled even by "liberal" outlets like the contemptible New York Times.
The study and similar ones in 15 other countries have shed new light on the disease across Africa. Relying on the latest measurement tools, they portray an epidemic that is more female and more urban than previously believed, one that has begun to ebb in much of East Africa and has failed to take off as predicted in most of West Africa.Got that? All African peoples aren't the same, and they aren't all about to start dropping like flies as a result of "dry sex", uncontrollable promiscuity or whatever other nonsense to which a supposed continent-wide pandemic has been attributed in the past.
Yet the disease is devastating southern Africa, according to the data. It is in that region alone -- in countries including South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe -- that an AIDS Belt exists, the researchers say. (emphasis added)
... by 2002, disparities were already emerging. A national study in the southern African country of Zambia, for example, found a rate of 15.6 percent, significantly lower than the U.N. rate of 21.5 percent. In Burundi, which borders Rwanda in central East Africa, a national study found a rate of 5.4 percent, not the 8.3 percent estimated by UNAIDS.Even a rate of 0.5 percent would still be too high for my liking - the ideal rate being zero - but the fact is that this figure suggests Sierra Leone's AIDS rate is actually lower than Russia's, once the disparity between official and unofficial figures in the latter country are taken into account, and it's also a safe bet that the figures for many parts of India are also higher than this, yet the media and the NGO types would have one think AIDS were an exclusively black African problem; for a lot of people the world over, it's just so much easier to believe that those "dirty", "savage", "oversexed" blacks are the only ones who are at any real risk of contracting AIDS, just as they're the only ones who ever suffer famine (and as we know, all African children are just a step away from dying of hunger), rather than accepting that there are serious health problems brewing in their own backyards. The featureless, uniform "Africa" of popular imagination is the canvas on which others feel free to paint their images of native sin and externally-derived redemption.
In West Africa, Sierra Leone, just then emerging from a devastating civil war, was found to have a national prevalence rate of less than 1 percent -- compared with an estimated U.N. rate of 7 percent. (emph. added)
As for what makes the difference between southern Africa and the rest of the continent, my best guess is that it comes down to two causes: one is the disparity in circumcision rates between the region and in countries further north - it has now been established beyond all reasonable doubt that circumcision dramatically lowers HIV transmission rates - and the second being the system used by the South African government to manage black migrant workers during the apartheid years. It doesn't take a genius to see how crowding hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied males into single-sex hostels, and preventing them from seeking any forms of leisure other than those to be found in the whorehouse and the shebeen, could have fueled an STD epidemic, especially when one of the vectors in question was a virus with such a long lead time between infection and manifestation, but that is just what the apartheid government did, and the best evidence for this argument is that the labor-management institutions which were established in that era are still at work today spreading HIV far and wide. Of course, it doesn't help matters in southern Africa that the key leaders in the region are either murderous tyrants more concerned with looting and staying in office than petty matters like AIDS, conspiracy-minded fruitcakes inclined to dispute the causative influence of HIV, or crooked rapist dolts who subscribe to the ridiculous notion that showering makes it safe to sexually assault HIV-positive women.