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Category Archives: ebola

Africans Several Steps Ahead of ‘Global’ Health?


Many articles about ebola continue to mention a two year old boy who was probably infected with the virus some time in December of 2013. The articles refer to the boy as the ‘index case’, as if his being infected set off the recent epidemic in West Africa.

In fact, working back from confirmed cases, the trail goes cold before December 2013. There is no data about the virus and the investigation becomes pure speculation at this point. There is no evidence that the boy was infected by a bat, nor is there evidence that bats or other animals in the area carry ebola.

Articles mentioning this two year old boy, bats, ‘corpse touching’ at funerals and even sexually transmitted ebola (of which no cases have ever been confirmed), are commonplace. It is not just the media that revel in them, but also many scientific and medical articles.

But the people of West Africa seem oblivious to many of the warnings they have been receiving about ebola. And maybe they are right?

Apparently Liberians are completely unconvinced about the dangers of eating bush meat.

In Guinea, cases of malaria and deaths from malaria far exceed numbers of people infected with ebola and deaths from ebola. More importantly, the number of deaths from malaria has increased because people have been avoiding health facilities, fearing they might be infected with ebola.

Worse still, their condition may be mistaken for ebola and they could end up in an ebola treatment unit, with other suspected ebola cases, some of which turn out to have the virus.

To fear health facilities in Africa is perfectly logical. Healthcare conditions in most African countries are appalling. Not just ebola, but HIV, TB, hepatitis and other diseases have been spread by unsafe healthcare practices, such as reused injecting and other skin-piercing instruments.

CDC, UNAIDS, WHO and other health agencies may be convinced by their own propaganda, but people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are not. And, it seems, they have entirely valid reasons for ignoring this ‘official’ advice. Unfortunately, that means many people will suffer from and die from easily treated conditions.

But ‘global’ health is in crisis because those most likely to suffer from ‘global’ health conditions are probably least likely to trust health facilities in their country. The interference of various international agencies (or local offices of international agencies) is only likely to increase this mistrust.

Nigeria has problems with ‘quack’ doctors. Nigerians escaped a serious ebola epidemic, but the second largest HIV positive population in the world resides in Nigeria. Nigeria has also swallowed the dubious claims of UNAIDS and others that HIV is almost always transmitted through heterosexual sex in Africa countries.

As a result, the country has passed punitive laws about ‘non-disclosure’, exposure and transmission, but only, it appears, when transmission is sexual.

The ebola epidemic has shown that people find it hard to trust ‘global’ health agencies. Warnings about various sexual practices and HIV have also fallen on deaf ears. But perhaps ordinary people are right to ignore ‘global’ health agencies. Perhaps bush meat and ‘corpse touching’ are either not as common or not as risky as we have been told. And perhaps the appalling conditions to be found in health facilities are much more risky than we have been told.

South Africa – Never Mind HIV, We’ve Got Penis Transplants


One ebola case, out of tens of thousands identified over nearly forty years, may have been sexually transmitted; the evidence is slim, but CDC and others really want this one case to be used to stress that people should be made aware of this highly remote possibility (if it is even remotely possible).

Strong evidence that a significant proportion of transmissions of ebola is a result of unsafe healthcare is quietly ignored; CDC and others don’t wish to warn people that the healthcare systems expected to deal with such outbreaks are far too weak to keep people alive, and are likely to be part of the problem in the cases of ebola and HIV.

South Africa has transplanted one penis on to a man who lost his through a botched circumcision. The US government is ploughing a few billion dollars into circumcising tens of millions of African adults (and an unknown number of children), so they will not be in a hurry to warn people about the hundreds of botched circumcisions reported every year (nor the uncounted thousands that remain unreported).

The English Guardian has a lengthy article about this single penis transplant, and has had a few, equally salacious articles, about botched circumcisions that occur in traditional, non-sterile settings. That same smug, self-satisfied newspaper has had next to nothing to say about appalling conditions in healthcare facilities in places where HIV prevalence is very high, or about the possible role of unsafe healthcare in transmitting HIV, hepatitis C and B, ebola, TB and various other diseases.

The craze for circumcising African men is based on the view that HIV is almost always ‘spread’ by men, through ‘unsafe’ sex, which almost every ‘African’ engages in, almost all the time (a view based entirely on prejudice). The press is completely unmoved by the fact that circumcision of men may increase HIV transmission from males to females, considerably.

The media goes crazy about the ‘possibly sexually transmitted’ ebola case, even exaggerating it into a dead certainty that it was sexually transmitted; and they are happy to promote the view that Africans engage in types and levels of sexual behavior that should be curbed by various (failed) measures, paid for by donor money. But this is just a continuation of what various colonizers began.

The racism behind the view that HIV is almost always transmitted through heterosexual contact in (some) African countries, but no non-African countries, has always remained unremarked by the press. The prejudice behind singling out uncircumcised African men and HIV positive women for intense vilification is rarely mentioned.

The fact that about 7% of HIV positive women in South Africa, the country with the largest HIV positive population in the world, report being sterilized forcibly, receives occasional mention. But readers seem to prefer articles about penis transplants and one possibly sexually transmitted case of ebola, it appears.

The Daily Maverick has an article about what the author dubs the ‘new denialism’; the health services in South Africa are failing, they are even failing HIV positive people, despite the huge amounts of money that the country is said to have received.

The health services are unable to cope with any illnesses and throwing money at HIV will not result in reasonable numbers of well trained and equipped staff, adequate supplies and, most of all, levels of cleanliness and hygiene that eliminate the possibility that many patients will end up being infected with something in hospital that is far worse than what they were admitted with.

There is nothing new about this denialism, but it needs to be recharacterized; health services are not just inadequate, they are dangerous. Aidsmap.com are certainly not alone in bemoaning the fact that many women in South Africa are infected with HIV relatively late in their pregnancy, sometimes after giving birth, even many months after.

Nor are Aidsmap alone in failing to consider the possibility that some of those women, perhaps most of those women, were infected with HIV through unsafe healthcare, reused syringes, needles, various types of equipment and various processes that require a far better level of hygiene than will be found in extremely high prevalence provinces, such as KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga.

The pharmaceutical industry does very well out of HIV and several other diseases that have hit the headlines in the mainstream press, and are deemed worthy of enormous funding. Many NGOs have been built by HIV money and will only thrive and prosper as long as a few diseases are considered worthy of massive funding.

The press loves a story about a penis transplant in a country too poor to prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths every year, of women giving birth, babies, children and adults with easily treated and prevented diseases. Appalling conditions in health services in most African countries does not merit the attention of the press, they are far too commonplace. If a story from ‘Africa’ has even the remotest connection with sex, publish it; if not, forget it.

Unsafe Sex and Unsafe Healthcare are Mutually Exclusive HIV Risks in African Countries?


Recently, I blogged about a series of investigations that took place in various US states over a period of 10 years because of 86 cases of hepatitis C infection (HCV) being discovered, which could not be explained by the usual risks for this virus in a wealthy country, namely intravenous drug use and the like.

This extremely comprehensive investigation revealed that the 86 infections resulted from the actions of just six health personnel, who all had an addiction to controlled drugs. Over the course of 10 years they had put the safety of an estimated 30,000 patients at risk.

When a young woman in Brazil was found to be infected with HIV and no obvious sexual risks were established, rigorous research was carried out to discover a possible mode of transmission. The research found that the woman may have been exposed to contaminated manicure instruments many years before.

The manicure instruments belonged to the patient’s cousin, who had been on antiretroviral drugs, but whose treatment had lapsed. Phylogenetic analysis showed that the patient had very likely been infected by this cousin, and that sharing contaminated manicure instruments was the most likely mode of infection.

Worryingly, the paper finds that “In a recent case of transmission among women, the CDC lists, along[side] classical transmission routes, potential alternative sources that must be ruled out, such as tattooing, acupuncture, piercing, the use of shared sex toys between the partners and other persons, and exposure to body fluids, but does not include manicure instruments.”

The use of shared sex toys but not other shared instruments? Forgive me for thinking that people working for the CDC and other normative agencies may have some unresolved issues relating to assumed sexual practices, and perhaps an aversion to discussing non-sexual risks; or maybe that’s just when it relates to African countries?

Although an estimated 70% of HIV positive people live in sub-Saharan Africa, the kinds of investigation that were carried out in the US and Brazil do not appear to have been carried out in any African country. At least, if they have been carried out, they have not been written up in peer-reviewed papers.

Anyone who has visited Kampala in Uganda or Moshi in Tanzania may have seen people with basins of manicure equipment being used in the open, in shops and other premises, on women waiting for buses, working, shopping or just taking some time for a manicure or pedicure.

In Dar es Salaam and other places you may see men shaving another man’s head with a hand held, double edged razor. When one has finished, they swap around. Little nicks and cuts are usually treated with a piece of tissue, or possibly with a bit of antiseptic.

However, when people are diagnosed with HIV in African countries they are generally not asked about their possible non-sexual exposures, through unsafe cosmetic, traditional or healthcare practices. When people say they have not had sex, that they have not had sex with a HIV positive person, or that they have only had protected sex, these matters are generally dismissed.

HIV is not the only pathogen that is possibly fairly frequently transmitted in cosmetic, traditional and healthcare contexts, where skin-piercing is involved. Other pathogens include hepatitis, various bacterial infections, scabies, even ebola. Where skin-piercing is not involved, also, several serious diseases can be transmitted in these environments, for example TB.

It seems that, because it’s Africa, sex is always imputed, even when the patient makes it clear that this may not be, perhaps even cannot be, the mode of transmission. Because it’s Africa, unsafe healthcare, it seems that cosmetic and traditional practices can not explain otherwise inexplicable HIV infections.

According to normative agencies such as UNAIDS, healthcare and other environments are unsafe enough to explain high prevalence of hepatitis C in several low HIV prevalence countries, such as Egypt, but can’t explain high HIV prevalence in a low HCV prevalence country, such as South Africa.

Why should healthcare be unsafe and sexual behavior safe in all and only the countries with high HCV prevalence in Africa, while healthcare is safe and sexual behavior unsafe in all and only the countries with high HIV epidemics? Also, if sexual behavior is so unsafe in sub-Saharan Africa, shouldn’t HCV prevalence also be high all high HIV prevalence countries?

Hepatitis, TB, HIV and Ebola: Healthcare Associated Epidemics?


It is sometimes claimed (by UNAIDS and others) that if HIV was frequently transmitted through unsafe healthcare in sub-Saharan countries, then hepatitis C (HCV) would also be common in the same countries, because HCV is usually transmitted through unsafe healthcare (dental procedures, surgery, stitches, etc). Indeed, HIV prevalence is often higher in countries that have low prevalence of HCV; and the high HCV countries tend to have low HIV prevalence.

However, given that it is well established that both viruses can be transmitted through unsafe healthcare, and that unsafe healthcare practices are probably very common in most (all?) African countries, the non-correlation between HIV and HCV prevalence seems like a very weak and unappealing argument. Because we don’t know the relative contribution of HIV transmission through unsafe healthcare, neither do we know how much transmission is a result of heterosexual sex.

Blaming high rates of HIV transmission almost exclusively on ‘unsafe’ heterosexual behavior has a number of dangerous consequences. For a start, it stigmatizes those who are already infected. It also results in people who don’t engage in ‘unsafe’ sexual practices failing to recognize their risk of being infected. More serious still, it means that public health programs aiming to influence sexual behavior will be relatively ineffective.

HCV prevalence in Egypt is the highest in the world and HIV prevalence is low. But a recent survey concludes that “Invasive medical procedures are still a major risk for acquiring new HCV infections in Egypt“. It sounds like measures to reduce transmission have not yet been completely successful. More worryingly, another paper finds that “there could be opportunities for localized HIV outbreaks and transmission of other blood-borne infections in some settings such as healthcare facilities“.

What about countries where HIV prevalence is extremely high, such as South Africa? HCV prevalence is very low, so the UNAIDS argument above would suggest that unsafe healthcare does not play a significant role in HIV transmission. But does that mean unsafe healthcare is unimportant? After all, resistant strains of TB have been transmitted in hospitals in South Africa and this has even spread beyond South Africa, to surrounding countries, and even to another continent.

In reality, we don’t know that much about HCV in the Africa region. A review of research on the subject concludes that “Africa has the highest WHO estimated regional HCV prevalence (5.3%)” in the world. That’s a striking figure, because HIV prevalence across the whole sub-Saharan African region is also around 5%. There are two serious viral pandemics on the continent that may both be driven to a large extent by unsafe healthcare.

HCV concentrates in certain countries and in parts of certain countries. But so does HIV. Prevalence is relatively low in most of Kenya, for example, only a few percent. It’s high in the two large cities, Nairobi and Mombasa, and highest in three (out of 47) counties around Lake Victoria. The situation in Tanzania is similar, with three high prevalence areas. In Burundi and Rwanda prevalence is also low, except in the capital cities.

So the fact that most high HIV prevalence areas do not overlap much with high HCV prevalence rates is not a very convincing argument that the two viruses are transmitted in completely different ways, the former being mainly transmitted through heterosexual sex and the latter through unsafe healthcare. Comparing HCV and HIV patterns only makes the contention that HIV is mostly sexually transmitted look all the more infantile.

The good news, then, is that improving healthcare safety would reduce transmission of both HCV and HIV, and even a range of other diseases that don’t get anywhere near as much attention as HIV. Good healthcare is also safe healthcare, whereas indifferent healthcare, with low standards of infection control, results in alarmingly high rates of transmission of serious diseases.

Journalists have recently had their attention drawn to the potential drawbacks of neglecting healthcare; ebola is difficult to control in a healthcare environment (as opposed to a rural village, where it appears to die out quite quickly). But it has been shown that it is difficult to control in healthcare facilities because of unsafe practices, such as reuse of skin-piercing instruments, gloves and other disposable supplies, lack of infection control procedures, a shortage of skilled personnel, etc.

One newspaper article even made a connection between ebola and HIV, suggesting that because many West African countries had relatively low HIV epidemics, investment in healthcare was lower, hence the weakness of the response to ebola.

Their analysis is not very perceptive. HIV-related investment in Sierra Leone and Liberia has been high enough to ensure that more than 80% of HIV positive people are provided with antiretroviral treatment. Guinea is way behind them in this respect, with less than 50% of people receving treatment. But spending money on preventing supposedly sexually transmitted HIV, and on treatment, does nothing to address unsafe healthcare.

HCV, HIV, ebola, TB and various other diseases can be transmitted through unsafe healthcare, so this is an argument for strengthening all health facilities in all developing countries. A human right to health does not make any sense if healthcare is so unsafe that patients risk being infected with a deadly disease when they visit a health facility. So ‘strengthening’ healthcare must include making health facilities safer.

It is hardly surprising that people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia run from health authorities and hide family members who are sick. The prospect of having your house searched by people in hazmat suits, sometimes backed up by people with guns, is frightening enough. But if your property is dragged outside in broad daylight and burned in public, and your sick relatives are hauled off to a ramshackle, understaffed, undersupplied health facility, these must extremely traumatic experiences.

If health facilities are unsafe, healthcare associated transmission of serious diseases will only increase as more people are admitted to them. Transmission rates will not go down until safety is made a priority; this applies as much to HIV as it does to HCV, ebola, TB and other diseases. The additional assurance that people will not be exposed to life-threatening diseases through unsafe healthcare should also increase demand for healthcare.

CDC: Ebola Characterized by ‘Amplification in Health Care Settings’


When Peter Piot, the ‘Virus Detective Who Discovered Ebola‘, went to one of the first identified outbreaks in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he reported that “it was clear that the outbreak was closely related to areas served by the local hospital”.

Piot says: “The team found that more women than men caught the disease and particularly women between 18 and 30 years old – it turned out that many of the women in this age group were pregnant and many had attended an antenatal clinic at the hospital.”

He goes on: “The team then discovered that the women who attended the antenatal clinic all received a routine injection. Each morning, just five syringes would be distributed, the needles would be reused and so the virus was spread between the patients.”

What he has to say about people getting ill after attending funerals is repeated in contemporary reports on ebola in West Africa, ad nauseam. But the comments about visits to the hospital, women attending antenatal care and reuse of syringes (and possibly other medical instruments) are no longer mentioned so much.

The CDC does write that ebola “has been characterized by amplification in health care settings and increased risk for health care workers (HCWs), who often do not have access to appropriate personal protective equipment“, but they are not as expansive as Piot about exactly what that means on the ground.

There was a whole rash of recent reports about women being more likely to be infected with ebola than men in the current outbreak and a rather narrow set of speculative explanations about why this might be so, one being that women are more likely to be involved in giving care than men.

While women may well more often be the ‘caregivers’, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine summarizes available data on every reported case. However, it finds that there is very little difference in the numbers of men and women infected, and even the number of men who die from ebola.

There are also far fewer children infected than adults, despite claims that ‘women and children’ are more likely to be infected than men.

As far as I can see, media speculation into why women may be more likely to be infected than men (because they may have been more likely in some instances) did not question the possibility that women are often more likely to access healthcare, especially when pregnant.

Piot makes this connection during the first investigated ebola epidemic and goes on to connect women’s elevated risk with the use of unsterile syringes, not just casual contact in healthcare facilities.

It is to be hoped that clinics are no longer issued with five syringes a day, though clear data about supplies of syringes and needles is hard to come by. But what about other infection control equipment and supplies; especially equipment and supplies in facilities that are experiencing extreme shortages?

What about facilities that are understaffed, where an adequate number of workers may be able to take certain precautions to protect themselves and their patients, but an inadequate number may only be able to think about their own safety, or not even that?

In the case of HIV there are many reasons why a woman might be more likely to be infected through unsafe healthcare. They are expected to attend antenatal care during pregnancy, give birth in a health facility, attend post-natal care, and perhaps several other reasons.

But since western countries, especially the US, have started taking an interest in ebola, they have reinforced efforts to round up people who look in the least bit like they have a fever and sticking them in an already overcrowded health facility, where conditions are appalling.

So if women were more likely to be infected with ebola earlier on in the current epidemic, and in some of the earlier outbreaks in other parts of Africa, perhaps the current approach is influencing the gender balance somewhat. One result possibly being that men are no longer less likely than women to go to a health facility (especially if they are given no option).

Piot says: “The closure of the hospital, the use of quarantine and making sure the community had all the necessary information eventually brought an end to the epidemic – but nearly 300 people died.” Most people were quarantined in their own homes, not in an overcrowded and filthy ward.

How things have changed. Far from trying to persuade people to stay in their homes and supporting family members to look after them, US soldiers are helping to send people to what could be the very epicenter of the epidemic.

There are now far more confirmed and suspected ebola cases than there is hospital capacity to care for them. So a strategy that aims to strengthen and make hospitals safer, in combination with strengthening communities to care for people at home might now be the only option left.

Guardian Ebola Coverage: More Journalism, Less Journalese, Please


My last post cited an article from the English Guardian claiming that a two year old boy had been bitten by a fruit bat and thus became ‘patient zero’ for the current ebola epidemic in West Africa. Since then, the newspaper has rewritten the paragraph to read:

In December last year, near the village of Meliandou in southern Guinea, two-year-old Emile may have come into contact with one of the fruit bats that fly through west Africa’s skies, often gathering at dusk to roost in trees.

‘May have come into contact with’ is a lot better than what Clar Ni Chonghaile wrote previously, but the article still confidently claims that this two year old boy is ‘patient zero’. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that this confidence is mislpaced:

Potential reservoirs of [ebola], fruit bats […] are present in large parts of West Africa. Therefore, it is possible that [ebola] has circulated undetected in this region for some time. The emergence of the virus in Guinea highlights the risk of [ebola] outbreaks in the whole West African subregion.

An infectious disease doctor at CDC goes further: [these] two kids were likely early cases of the outbreak but not the first cases.

My criticism of Ni Chonghaile is not that she is wrong about bats or patient zero, but that she infers some kind of certainty where there are at best hypotheses, and at worst pure speculation. I accept fully that epidemiology is often like that, therefore I object to the use of ‘fruit bats’ and ‘funeral practices’ as explanations when these are probably a very small part of the story.

Although it is not my purpose to check ‘facts’ in the article, I would also say that timing is very important; it matters a great deal when the first suspected case was reported, whether they survived, when the next case was reported, etc. So it is worth pointing out that Ni Chonghaile also gets the dates wrong: the symptoms started for the first suspected case on December 2, not December 26; he died four days later. [Correction: the NEJM article gives two possible dates, one in early December and the other in late December, with consequent changes in the possible dates of infection of other suspected cases.]

But the most important thing that Ni Chonghaile and others writing on the subject fail to discuss is the possibility that unsafe healthcare is likely to have played a considerable role in transmitting ebola. Infection from healthcare worker to patient, as well as from patient to healthcare worker, are very likely, so is infection from patient to patient. What about reused syringes, needles and other equipment? Even reused gloves?

Naturally, the Guardian and other media outlets decry conditions in health facilities in African countries in the abstract. But concrete evidence that unsafe healthcare may have been responsible for transmitting HIV, hepatitis, TB and other diseases in the past, and may still be responsible, doesn’t seem to impinge very much on their ostensibly enlightened consciousness.

Eliminating contact with bats, funeral rites and a handful of other exotic phenomena will not, have not, stopped the epidemic. Sure, a bat (or some other animal) may have started the current outbreak, but how has it been sustained since then (whenever that may have happened)? This is not at all about blame, but about tracing how each infection occurred and eliminating that mode of transmission.

These trivial ‘certainties’ deflect attention from a host of uncertainties, but also from the unspoken suspicion that the current approach itself is not working, that protocols may be incomplete, that the proposed solution may be part of the problem. It should not be beyond a journalist to question things that seem to be relevant, but are currently being ignored. Or perhaps I expect too much from them?

Patient Zero, Perfect Storms and Other Comforting Epidemic Metaphors


The English Guardian reports: “In December last year, near the village of Meliandou in southern Guinea, two-year-old Emile was bitten by one of the fruit bats that fly through west Africa’s skies, often gathering at dusk to roost in trees.” In fact, as the article goes on to make (partially) clear, this is just one hypothesis out of many.

The ‘first’ person infected in the current outbreak may or may not have come into direct contact with a bat, or some other animal; or the outbreak may have occurred in a health facility, rather than in ‘the bush’; the term ‘Patient Zero’ is suitably dramatic for articles about disasters set in exotic locations, but has distracted attention from how people continue to be infected with ebola.

It’s comforting to think that African two year olds are a lot less likely to be bitten by bats now that the scientists, medics and disaster workers have moved in; perhaps African parents will even give up or modify their unsafe bat-hunting habits and take people to hospital if they are thought to be sick, and cease to take vaguely defined risks of being infected at funerals.

Meanwhile, when a healthcare worker in Texas is infected with ebola, being one of the many people who nursed ebola victim Thomas Duncan, a ‘breach of protocol’ is immediately suspected. Another hypothesis, of course (although it leaves out the possibility that the protocol has failed to take into account some additional mode of transmission).

Compare this to an earlier blog post: when 86 people who have no identifiable risks for the virus are infected with hepatitis C in the US, expensive investigations are carried out into possible breaches of infection control processes in the health facilities that the victims attended.

Yet, when millions of Africans who have no identifiable risks for the virus are infected with HIV, an entire industry develops around the prejudiced view that Africans engage in huge amounts of unsafe sex. No investigations are carried out into conditions in health facilities, although various reports show that infection control processes are seriously lacking.

Of course, there was no ebola protocol in West Africa back in December of last year. But all the more reason, then, to investigate health facilities. What kind of infection control processes were in place then, and are now? Subsequent findings suggest that there are severe shortages in trained personnel, supplies and beds, etc, similar to those noted in other African countries.

Rational explanations in western countries, but metaphors and non-rational backstories in Africa. Spacesuits, because it is an exotic virus from a different planet, brave westerners, but only poor and uneducated Africans.

It just seems a bit suspicious that ebola (and HIV and other diseases) are spread through the ignorance and carelessness of victims in African countries, but through a ‘breach of protocol’ in the US. Health facilities are such dangerous places in African countries that it is surprising authorities insisted on rounding up those suspected of being infected with ebola and marching them off to a clinic in the first place.

But that approach may now be challenged if this article in the New York Times is at all correct. It says that officials have admitted defeat and that they are going to “help families tend to patients at home”. About time too. This could be a major turning point if it is taken to its logical conclusion (if logic if given a role, for a change).

As David Gisselquist has pointed out on this site, people are not being asked about possible infection through through healthcare procedures they may have received in the recent past. Gisselquist has been arguing that people should be warned about healthcare risks, treated with respect and fully supported if they decide to care for ebola patients at home.

Long before the current ebola outbreak occurred it was already common practice for healthcare professionals to say as little as possible about lack of safety in facilities, resulting in HIV, hepatitis, TB and other diseases being transmitted through various procedures, such as injections with reused syringes and needles, unsterilized equipment, reused gloves and other materials. This needs to change, as the ebola outbreak shows (and as the hepatitis and HIV epidemics have been demonstrating for several decades).

In the US there are possible insurance claims, professional negligence inquiries, outbreak investigations, protocols to be rewritten, with some of these phenomena possibly being mentioned in the mainstream media from time to time. Oh, and perhaps some much loved mongrels to be euthanized.

But in Africa the media will continue with its customary approach: treat the people as an exotic, primitive species, to be pitied for their funeral practices and ‘bush meat’ hunting, their reluctance to go to a hospital (implied to reflect a suspicion of modern or ‘western’ things or people), etc. There will be lots more ‘ebola orphans’, two year old Emiles, ministering angels in spacesuits and the like.

It’s as if this completely unforseeable ‘perfect storm’ (a metaphor also favored by the media when writing about HIV) took away Patient Zero, and the rest of the outbreak was down to a combination of other ineluctable processes. But, whereas a perfect storm is a rare combination of factors, unsafe healthcare has been around for decades.

The current ebola outbreak is a symptom of decades of unsafe healthcare; it is nothing like a ‘perfect storm’. Two year old Emile, ebola’s putative patient zero, is as far from being the index case as Gaëtan Dugas was for the HIV epidemic. Stopping ebola requires an admission that unsafe healthcare spreads disease and allows isolated outbreaks to become pandemics. Apologies if the truth is far too prosaic to sell newspapers.

Amnesty International South Africa: Right to Healthcare Futile Unless it’s Safe Healthcare


When I was writing yesterday’s blog post I didn’t realize that the Amnesty International report I referred to had already been published. It’s called ‘Struggle for Maternal Health: Barriers to Antenatal Care in South Africa‘. It is quite extraordinary that such a lengthy report about maternal health can fail to mention safety, unsafe healthcare, healthcare transmitted infections and the like.

But the report puts the cards on the table on page 21: “Heterosexual sexual intercourse is the main cause of HIV transmission in South Africa.” The South African ‘National Strategic Plan’ is cited in support of this contention, and that document doesn’t really support the claim at all, although it’s clear that it comes from the usual documents from the usual normative agencies.

Normative agencies such as UNAIDS, WHO and others make guesstimates of the proportion of HIV transmission that can be attributed to male to male sex, intravenous drug use, commercial sex work and various heterosexual ‘groups’ (who are never very clearly defined). The minute figure that remains, 1-2%, is attributed to healthcare transmission of HIV.

But as yesterday’s blog (and other data on the Don’t Get Stuck With HIV site and blog) show, there are numerous types of healthcare transmission of HIV, including antenatal care, invasive forms of contraception, blood tests, donations and transfusions, child delivery, injections, surgery and many others.

Amnesty and others go on about stigma, the need for privacy, lack of information and poor public transport for pregnant women. But the stigma is not very surprising: if a HIV negative man constantly hears that the virus is primarily transmitted through heterosexual sex and that his wife is HIV positive, or that his child is, he is not being irrational in believing that his wife has been having sex with someone else.

Rather, he is misinformed. Misinformed by the likes of UNAIDS, WHO and, it seems, Amnesty International. Neither the woman nor the man are told that HIV may have been transmitted through some non-sexual route, perhaps even through unsafe healthcare. This is an especially important mode of transmission in the case of HIV positive infants whose mothers are negative, or HIV positive mothers whose partners are negative.

The closest Amnesty International’s report gets to the issue of unsafe healthcare is where they recommend “[paying] particular attention to the need to develop, resource and implement programmes to address the underlying determinants of health that promote safe pregnancies and deliveries.” [my italics] But there is little or nothing in the body of the report indicating that unsafe healthcare may be an underlying determinant in much of the morbidity and mortality among women, infants and children.

The report does talk to healthcare users and providers and there are some useful findings. People are not given clear, complete or even accurate information a lot of the time. Healthcare workers often lie or withhold vital information and they may even be ignorant of certain matters themselves.

Antenatal care provision may be lacking in South Africa, but the country has one of the highest figures for women giving birth in a health facility among all the high HIV prevalence African countries. It also has one of the highest figures for deliveries being attended by a skilled health provider.

In other words, high HIV prevalence countries tend to be those with better antenatal care indicators, rather than worse. Amnesty also reports on transport, but transport infrastructure is more developed in SA and other high HIV prevalence countries than it is in East and central Africa, where HIV prevalence is also lower.

Amnesty International did not seem to question these phenomena, despite the fact that they have noticed that HIV prevalence is high in SA, especially in the areas they did their research (KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga), also that maternal morbidity and mortality are much higher among HIV positive than HIV negative women.

Had they questioned the often cited but never demonstrated reflex ‘heterosexual intercourse is the main cause of HIV transmission’, they might also have tried to find out if health professionals may be hiding behind patient confidentiality and privacy and deliberately avoiding testing partners of HIV positive women because they wouldn’t want anyone to suspect that unsafe healthcare can be responsible for transmitting HIV.

These both look like conflicts of interest for healthcare providers, between informing HIV positive people how they or those they care for may have been infected and avoiding the suspicion that unsafe healthcare can result in transmission of HIV, hepatitis, bacterial infections and other pathogens (including TB, ebola and anything else going around in hospitals).

South African’s constitution holds that healthcare should be of ‘good quality’ and that citizens have the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Unless health facilities are safe places, increasing access to healthcare may be counterproductive and expose people to avoidable illness and injury. Unless healthcare personnel are enabled to provide safe healthcare, training and retraining them may be similarly counterproductive.

A well funded and experienced human rights NGO such as Amnesty International must go beyond the corporate mythmaking of normative agencies, the views of people constantly bombarded with misinformation and prejudice about HIV transmission, and health professionals who are either ignorant about healthcare transmission or who wish to protect their profession from suspicion of infecting patients.

Revised History of HIV in Kenya – Part V – UNAIDS’ Rorschach Hypothesis


As I said in earlier posts, HIV arrived in Kenya and remained unnoticed until the 1980s. It is said to have spread rapidly throughout the 80s, especially in certain places (such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyanza province and perhaps a few others), but also to have remained low in other places (such as the North and Northeast). The rate of new infections, incidence, peaked in the early to mid 1990s and declined thereafter. So prevalence peaked in the late 90s or early 2000s, with high death rates, which may have peaked in the mid 2000s. The epidemic has a long early years tail (1950s-1980s), a humped back, possibly very humped, and a longish neck. Perhaps the curve resembles an outline of a diplodocus, complete with a little bump where the head should be, but just a small head.

With prevalence peaking at a little over 10%, but only for two or three years, the period of high transmission or incidence would have been six or seven years previously (going backwards again, for a moment). That suggests something catastrophic in the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s that was responsible for much of this rapid transmission. Whatever that something was, it didn’t result in rapid spread of HIV before the 1980s, and it ceased in the 1990s. It also ceased to result in rapid spread of HIV after a brief few years. Does that sound like sexual behavior to you? It does to the HIV industry, who have been trying to redescribe similar phenomena in all high HIV prevalence African countries.

So the diplodocus is not the only kind of epidemic curve; there are several dinosaur-like curves that you can spot using UNAIDS data. Many of them look very similar, but there are some whose backs rise two or three times higher than any of those found in East Africa, for example Zimbabwe. A few more countries show an epidemic that exploded in the 1990s but haven’t dropped yet, such as Swaziland and Lesotho. The Dinosaur is also a good metaphor for some of the institutions and international NGOs that have systematically resisted one of the best arguments for universal primary healthcare ever (HIV, that is), and continue to resist it to this day. HIV is almost all a matter of individual sexual behavior, they say.

But I did mention being drawn to spatial and temporal factors, rather than ‘populations’. Even in my first attempt at characterizing Kenya’s epidemic it was clear that there wasn’t really a ‘national’ epidemic. Instead, there were places where HIV prevalence was exceptionally high, and even more places where HIV prevalence was low. Over time, there were places, high and low prevalence, where the curves looked nothing like dinosaurs. They were more like pancakes in low prevalence areas, sometimes with a small piece of fruit under them, and Mexican hats in high prevalence areas. Could this data really describe sexual behavior over time? I was skeptical, not believing that almost all HIV could be sexually transmitted, as the HIV industry was claiming.

Then it was confirmed to me that HIV is frequently transmitted through unsafe healthcare, cosmetic and traditional practices, such as reused syringes and other equipment and practices in all three scenarios, with the second and third involving razors and other sharp objects that are used to pierce the skin, often the same ones over and over again, without any attempt at sterilization. Reasonable people were arguing that various kinds of bloodborne transmission were the only phenomena that could explain the Mexican hats. That accorded well with what I could glean from the literature. It just doesn’t accord with what the HIV industry insists: we know it’s all about sex, they insist, even when you present instances where it couldn’t possibly be.

I can give you about 50 reasons why I don’t believe HIV is entirely a matter of sexual behavior without even putting much thought into it (I’ve already written the list). But here are 10, with supporting links, so you can follow them up if you are interested. I’ll supply more in Part VI, perhaps even the rest, I’m not sure yet. Many of the reasons I give overlap with the factors involved in HIV transmission that I listed in Part IV, so if you wondered about any of them, you’ll probably be able to match the two lists, eventually. I may even merge them some time, but not now.

1 Prevalence is often higher among rich people. Consult the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) for most African countries with serious HIV epidemics and you’ll find this. There is a table of HIV prevalence by wealth quintile that I drew up and it is available on a linked blog post I wrote recently.

2 Prevalence is often higher among better educated people. Again, the DHS gives data on this for all high HIV prevalence countries, but here’s a graph with some of the data in a table.

Education focus countries

3 High prevalence often clusters around transport infrastructure. Here’s a wonderful map of Africa where you can see why there are the several HIV regions I mentioned in an earlier part. But notice that ‘spatial accessibility’ or ‘friction’ that they mention do not explain all the regions. West Africa has a less serious epidemic than both East and southern Africa, yet there is good transport infrastructure there.

4 High prevalence often clusters around big employers, such as mines, plantations, etc. But miners and those employed in large numbers face other threats, such as employer supplied healthcare, public health programs, tests, checkups, STI programs and whatever else. Some may face additional sexual risks when they spend 11 months of the year in an all male hostel, but anyone who thinks that this sub-human treatment only impacts on victims’ sexual behavior needs psychiatric assessment.

5 Prevalence is usually higher in urban areas (where non-sexual risks are also higher). But there are multiple differences between urban and rural areas, only some of which relate to sexual behavior. The HIV industry loves going on about ‘sexual networks’, and not just in African countries. But what about the appalling conditions most urban dwelling people experience when they are born in a city or when they move to one? Slums are dangerous places, where children die of water borne diseases that cost a few cents to cure because what they need is clean water, to ensure they don’t get any of a multitude of waterborne diseases. Babies and children die of pneumonia and various respiratory problems, again, easily avoided and treated. But even if you pump a child full of available vaccines and send them back to the same environment, many of them will just die of something else. Adults die of all kinds of things as well, often as a result of the terrible living conditions. Many die or are disabled by road traffic accidents and other kinds of serious injury. Slums, where about 75-80% of Kenya’s urban dwellers live, are dangerous. Does anyone who has thought about it really think the only risks they face are sexual?

6 Prevalence is usually lower in rural areas (where non-sexual risks are also lower; have a look at any DHS). This is not to say that people don’t face hazards. They also don’t receive the benefits of public health programs that are available to people in the cities. Of course, this can protect them from healthcare associated HIV and other diseases but many vaccines work well, a lot of common diseases can be prevented or cured. However, when it comes to HIV, rural dwellers seem to be a lot better off, and inaccessibility of healthcare facilities may have protected them, at least in the recent past. My guess is that while some may be involved in ‘sexual networks’, just as people all over the world are, these do not explain everything.

7 HIV prevalence is not particularly closely related to ‘unsafe’ sexual behavior. For example, DHS figures for sexual behavior among young people in Zimbabwe show how tenuous the connection is. Even the authors were unable to interpret them. But a careful look at sexual behavior figures for many countries show that the numbers engaging in these behaviors tend to be a lot smaller than the numbers not engaging in them. These levels of ‘unsafe’ sexual behavior would not be able to explain the Mexican hat graphs in Nyanza and in Kenya’s major cities.

8 Prevalence is often lower among those who never use condoms. As the linked article shows, condom use is often associated with higher rates of transmission than non use. The authors try to imagine arguments to show why condoms look like they are failing more often than not, but they don’t come up with anything convincing. The figures in the article have been superseded and there’s a more up to date table in a blog a wrote a short time ago. My guess is that condom use is higher among urban dwelling, better educated, wealthier, employed people, and that’s why you get these same patterns for condom use in so many countries. Again, this strongly suggests that HIV is not purely a matter of sexual behavior.

9 HIV prevalence is low in areas where ‘intergenerational’ marriage and sex, that is, between people of very different ages, are more common. I’m linking to a blog post I wrote recently, no point in repeating the whole thing again. The data is from DHS for various countries.

10 HIV prevalence is low in areas where ‘traditional’ practices are more common, such as traditional medicine. These tend to be more common in rural and isolated areas. A possible exception to this is genital mutilation. There are two kinds, only one of which is ‘traditional’. The first kind takes place in a health facility, so that’s usually male genital mutilation. The second kind does not take place in a health facility and includes male and female genital mutilation. It’s hard to say which is more likely to transmit HIV. If mass male circumcision was being carried out in a health facility where infection control procedures were not followed properly, not an uncommon occurrence, then healthcare associated transmission could be very likely, and would be serious; some practitioners are carrying out twenty operations a day, apparently. Traditional circumcision, which has its own hazards, is carried out in entirely unsterile conditions and adverse events are common. But it may be less likely that a HIV positive person is being circumcised along with other initiates. Prevalence should be low among young uncircumcised males. Even if they engage in sex before the wound has healed, those with whom they have sex should also be less likely to be infected. But whether done in a clinic or in a field, genital mutilation is risky. Female genital mutilation generally takes place in unsterile conditions and the risks of some forms may be higher than those faced by males. But female genital mutilation is also more likely to take place in rural areas, where HIV prevalence is lower. It is said that almost 100% of Ethnic Somalis in Kenya’s Northeastern province, both male and female, are genitally mutilated, but HIV prevalence is very low.

HIV probably did very little for years in Kenya. But next to nothing for years is the way to go from being a species jump that should never have survived to being a pandemic. Perhaps a clearer history of how it survived and spread, to explode in the late 80s or early 90s, will tell us more about what is still driving transmission, in Kenya and elsewhere. But there are already many reasons for believing that HIV is not only transmitted through sex. One would want to be seriously disturbed to interpret every factor involved as evidence of sexual behavior.

Revised History of HIV in Kenya – Part IV – Diversity


Why is HIV spread so unevenly? In some parts of Kenya prevalence is at ‘hyperendemic’ levels, over 20%, almost 30% in one county. Yet in other counties it is low, 1% or lower. If, as we are constantly told, 80%, even 90% of HIV transmission is a result of unsafe sex (most of the remaining 10-20% being a result of mother to child transmission), what amazing sex lives people in some counties must have (or disgraceful, if you prefer). And what dull (or worthy) lives those in other counties must have, apparently only having sex for the purpose of procreation.

If, on the other hand, HIV is not always a result of sexual behavior, if many people may be infected through unsafe healthcare, even unsafe cosmetic and certain traditional practices, some of the factors involved in HIV transmission rates, low or high, start to make a lot more sense. The list of factors is long (over 40), but the italicized paragraphs are the kind of explanations given by the ‘it’s all about sex’ camp, so they are mostly the same. Yes, some HIV transmission is a result of sexual behavior, nobody is denying that, but some is not. Also, some areas where HIV transmission is high are in need of further study; a priori explanations for high and low prevalence have no place in science (though they seem to receive a warm welcome in a lot of papers on HIV epidemiology).

Christian

Prevalence is often higher among Christians than Muslims, and generally among males than females; not sure why this is so; the majority of HIV positive people in the world live in predominantly Christian countries, meaning that a lot more Christians than non-Christians are infected; why this is so is not clear, although both healthcare access and HIV prevalence are noticeably low in some Muslim dominated countries

Men less likely to be circumcised; also Christians are ‘less restrained’ in their sexual behavior than Muslims

Circumcision

There is no clear evidence that circumcision reduces HIV transmission and it could only influence sexual transmission, at best; however circumcision is risky if carried out in unsafe healthcare facilities or in traditional settings

Circumcision ‘cleaner’ or ‘more hygienic’, although this is a hypothesis, there is no unambiguous evidence

Colonization

The vast majority of HIV positive people live in countries that were colonized by the British. This may relate to healthcare facilities, access to healthcare, health seeking behavior, infrastructure, stability, etc

It’s somehow related to sex

Condom use

HIV prevalence is higher, often far higher, among people who sometimes use condoms than among those who never do, suggesting that HIV risk is not always sexual

Those who are already infected are more likely to use condoms

Culture

Cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) may increase the risk of being infected, although it increases both sexual and non-sexual risks; yet prevalence among people who practice FGM is generally low, which suggests that there are other factors involved

Increases HIV transmission; if prevalence is low this can be explained away by reference to attitudes towards extra-marital sex, etc

Depo Provera

Increased risk for women taking it and for their partners

Denies that this is a risk and claims that the benefits (prevent conception) outweigh any disbenefits, which don’t exist anyway

Education

Educated people may have better access to healthcare and be more likely to use healthcare

Educated people have access to bigger sexual networks

Employment status

People with a job can afford healthcare, although this may not be safe healthcare; jobs may include healthcare or health insurance; some occupations provide healthcare services;

People with a job have more money and therefore access to bigger sexual networks; despite prevalence generally being higher among employed people, some suggest that unemployed people have little else to do but have sex

Female

Prevalence is usually higher among women, possibly because they have more need to use healthcare services, especially when pregnant and giving birth; they are also more susceptible to sexual transmission

Women are more vulnerable and have less power to make choices; they are usually victims, otherwise they fall under one of the many categories of sex worker

Fertility

Higher fertility may increase healthcare exposure, although it is often associated with low prevalence areas, rural areas, etc

Higher fertility means more unprotected sex

Healthcare

Healthcare may not always be safe, which may explain why countries with good access to healthcare for everyone, such as Botswana, may result in higher HIV prevalence

Sick people, including people with HIV, seek healthcare, which is why healthcare may seem to be associated with higher HIV prevalence; this is especially true of STIs

Hepatitis

HBV and HCV are much more likely to be transmitted through non-sexual routes, such as unsafe healthcare, cosmetic and traditional practices, also injection drug use

Presence of HBV and/or HCV are signs that the person is either promiscuous or an intravenous drug user (or both)

Herpes

Rates can be extremely high in some populations because it is very easy to transmit, sexually and through other routes; it plays a role in being infected with and transmitting HIV but the role is complex

It is a sign that people infected engage in unsafe sex and increases risk of transmitting and being infected with HIV

Inequality

It is neither clear that inequality is associated with higher risk, nor why this may be so

People are more vulnerable to sexual risk, especially women

Infrastructure

Good infrastructure is often associated with high HIV prevalence, which may suggest better access to unsafe healthcare

Good infrastructure gives access to bigger sexual networks

Male

Prevalence is usually lower among men than women, which leaves a question mark over instances of higher prevalence among men when they are found, for example, Muslim men in Kenya; prevalence may be lower because of lower use of health facilities

Men are considered to be mere spreaders of sexually transmitted disease, whether they are rich or poor, urban or rural dwelling, etc

Marriage

Sometimes HIV prevalence is far higher among married than unmarried people and it is not clear why

Married people are less likely to use condoms; they also have extra marital sex, usually the men, then they go home and infect their spouse

Migration

Migration can be for work, which may involve work-related healthcare, which may be unsafe and may not be subject to levels of scrutiny faced by public facilities, however scrutinized  they may be

Migrants, being away from home, either have other sexual partners or visit sex workers; they then return home to infect their spouse

Mobility

Possibly increases access to health facilities, but mobility on it’s own doesn’t seem to explain high prevalence

Mobile people have access to bigger sexual networks

Muslim

Figures vary, with prevalence higher among Muslims than Christians in some countries (eg, Burundi, Rwanda, Mozambique, but not Kenya or Tanzania), also higher among Muslim men than women in others, eg Kenya; not sure why this is so

Men more likely to be circumcised; also Muslims are ‘more restrained’ in their sexual behavior than Christians

National borders

High HIV prevalence has been reported at border areas in the past and rates of unsafe sexual behavior may be higher; but the sex workers and long distance drivers who are said to be responsible for high rates have often taken part in STI eradication programs and may frequently use STI clinics

Long distance drivers have sex with sex workers, then they go home and have sex with their spouses

Occupation – armed forces

Members are unlikely to have any option as to whether they take part in various health programs, tests, etc; healthcare is likely to be free, which means usage is also probably higher

They have access to bigger sexual networks and frequently visit sex workers

Occupation – fishing

Prevalence is high in fishing communities, not necessarily highest among the fishermen; also, very high prevalence seems to be a feature of only some fishing communities, especially lakes; not sure why HIV prevalence is so high

Fishermen do risky work, therefore they are not bothered by sexual risk; also, they spend a lot of time away from home; also, they use sex as a bargaining tool

Occupation – mining

Artisanal mining is not so much associated with HIV so this probably applies to industrial scale mining; the work-related healthcare to which miners have access (they may even be compelled to receive certain health services and tests) may not be safe

Miners work a long way from home and don’t see their family much so they have extra-marital relationships and/or visit sex workers, then go home and infect their spouses

Occupation – teaching

Prevalence has been claimed to be higher and lower among teachers, at different times and places; they probably face similar risks to other public sector employees, whatever those may be

Teachers frequently have sex with their pupils (which may be true, and should be addressed, but it may turn out to have little to do with HIV transmission)

Occupation – transport

Transport workers may use health facilities more; also, they may have been persuaded to take part in STI eradication programs as they have been blamed for all sorts of things; these STI programs may not always have been safe

Transport workers are mobile, which means they have access to bigger sexual networks; then they go home and infect their spouses

Polygamy

Sometimes associated with higher transmission, sometimes with lower transmission, therefore not clear. It is not only practiced by Muslims but also by some tribes and even at least one Christian sect in Kenya

When prevalence is higher, this is because polygamy involves ‘concurrency’; when lower, it’s because men with more than one wife don’t need to have extra-marital sex, or not as much

Population density

Increases pressure on health facilities

Said to increase the size of sexual networks

Population growth

Increases pressure on health facilities

Said to increase the size of sexual networks

Poverty

HIV prevalence is often lower among poorer people, suggesting that they may face lower risk from, for example, unsafe healthcare because of reduced access; however, being poorer means that the only healthcare available may be unsafe

If prevalence is high, poorer women are more vulnerable (to sexual transmission) for various reasons;  if it’s lower, poorer people are less likely to be part of a ‘sexual network’ or their networks are likely to be smaller

Prisoners

There may be some kind of drug use that involves cutting or skin piercing (seems unlikely injection drug use would be common); healthcare is unlikely to be very comprehensive or safe; tattooing and traditional medicine may be additional risks, perhaps also scarification, blood oaths, etc

They have sex with other prisoners, the implication being that the sex includes anal sex; and/or injected drugs or drugs that involve skin piercing; condoms are usually not permitted

Rural

Rural dwelling people have less access to health facilities and infrastructure, which may go some way to explaining why prevalence is usually lower in rural areas

Rural dwelling people have access to smaller sexual networks

Schistosomiasis

This has been shown to increase susceptibility to infection and onward infection, which suggests that some people have sex, not very surprising; but endemic schistosomiasis, which is very cheap to treat, suggests weak healthcare systems

Lots of people having lots of sex with lots of other people all the time: schistosomiasis only adds to what is a ‘known issue’

Sex work

Prevalence among sex workers is low among some sex workers in Western countries unless they also engage in injection drug use but their biggest risk in countries with unsafe healthcare could be their frequent exposure to STI clinics and STI eradication programs; also, a lot of what is referred to as ‘sex work’ is in fact sex between people who are in a relationship or married; many people who are related, in a relationship or married also do business with their partner or relative; ‘gift giving’ is sometimes said to be a form of ‘transaction’ between two people who have sex; this is a very stigmatizing use of the term ‘sex work’ (a bit like the term ‘orphan’, which refers to children in developed countries who have lost both parents, but children who have lost one parent in developing countries; or the word ‘trafficking’ which seems to refer to just about anything that involves sex and that can attract funding to ‘rescue victims’ from)

Sex workers are forced into sex work by poverty, powerlessness, vulnerability, etc, but their consequent risks are high and entirely sexual, unless they are also injection drug users

STIs

STIs do not only suggest unsafe sexual behavior, they also suggest a health system that is failing; some are also transmitted through non-sexual routes, such as herpes and HIV

STIs are a sign that a person engages in unsafe sex

TB

TB is likely to be an occupational disease in deep mines, though mining operations deny this, as they don’t want to compensate those who contract it, pay for their treatment or improve conditions in mines; it increases HIV transmission in both directions

HIV positive people are more susceptible to TB

Tribe

Prevalence is high in some tribes and low in others (high among Luos, low among Somalis in Kenya, for example), which suggests that there may be several factors involved; there are ‘risky’ practices in tribal groups among whom HIV prevalence is low, as well as high (for example, female genital mutilation, which is widespread among Somalis)

‘Tribal’ practices and/or ‘traditional’ practices can be wheeled out on any occasion, either to explain high prevalence or low prevalence; they often involve sex or some form of brutality an are generally inflicted by men on women

Urban

Urban dwelling people have easier access to health facilities and other infrastructure

Urban dwelling people have access to bigger sexual networks

War/civil conflict/refugee camps

Prevalence is generally low during wars and only increases after the war has finished, perhaps because health seeking behavior changes during wars, health facilities become less accessible, money is short, infrastructure is destroyed, etc

If HIV is transmitted it is because people take advantage of the situation, rape and other forms of sexual violence being common; but as prevalence is usually lower it is claimed that sexual networks become smaller, people return to rural areas, etc

Wealth

Prevalence is often higher among wealthier people, suggesting that they may use healthcare more frequently; they may also face occupation related risks that are also non-sexual

Wealthy people can become part of larger sexual networks; they have more opportunities for sex and are more likely to avail of these opportunities

Widowhood

Prevalence among widows and widowers can be very high but it is not clear why

Widows are, in some cultures, inherited, having been widowed because their husband (obviously) died of AIDS; they are ‘cleansed’ (have sex with their inheritor) who may be the brother of the deceased, and infect him; he goes on to infect his other partners, including his spouse

The list above makes no claim to be exhaustive. When there is so much diversity in HIV epidemics within and between countries, why would anyone conclude that almost every factor is, ultimately, a matter of sexual behavior, or somehow relates to sexual transmission? It’s no wonder, given the above list, that HIV positive people are feared, even despised. It is the view that transmission is almost always sexual that results in the stigma UNAIDS and other institutions claim to abhor and pretend to be fighting; they are the source of the stigma. HIV ‘prevention’ programs that include some or all of the italicized arguments above merely spread the stigma.