Racism, Bigotry and the Origin of AIDS

— Corey S. Dubin

The actual origin(s) of AIDS remains an open question. Yet many gay publications, while so effectively opposing bigotry and homophobia, have accepted unquestionably the “African origin of AIDS” theory put forth by so-called medical researchers in the United States and Europe.

In AIDS, Africa and Racism (Columbia University Press, 1988), Richard and Rosalind Chiramuuta examine the racist preconceptions that have guided the collection of “evidence” regarding AIDS' origin in Africa -- for example, the reporting of all instances of “wasting” (severe weight loss) as AIDS, when certain parasites indigenous to Africa cause the same symptoms. The authors cite a number of cases where people who were classified as having AIDS and expected to die recovered fully when treated for parasites.

A controversial theory, argued by researchers J. Green and D. Miller from London's St. Mary's Hospital, holds that Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was transferred from African green monkeys, through humans being bitten or through the monkeys being consumed as food by certain populations in central Africa.

The African reality is very different from that described by these researchers. Africans have little contact with green monkeys. Domestic, not wild animals are the primary source of food protein for African peoples. Indeed, western medical researchers have far greater hands-on contact with non-human primates than do people in central Africa.

In Zaire, among the countries hardest hit by AIDS, the disease appeared first not among rural villagers but among urban middle- and upper-class people, many of whom have travelled extensively in the United States and Europe.

Given the history of AIDS, in which those who have the symptoms are seen as having brought it upon themselves, any theory that ghettoizes the origins must be treated with extreme caution. And especially given the historical racism that has biased “information” drawn by Europeans and Americans in Africa, we should be doubly cautious.

ATC 50, May-June 1994

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