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.