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York University African Studies Program
US Historian Charles Geshekter Says Africa a Testing Ground for Unsound Theories About AIDS; Demands Critical Reappraisal

TORONTO, February 24, 2000 -- California State University historian and anthropologist Charles Geshekter will appear in a panel discussion at York University Monday, February 28 to discuss his view that an abandonment of scientific principle in the fight against AIDS in Africa renders current medical approaches to the disease unworkable and ineffectual on the African continent.

Geshekter brings recent research from South Africa and Swaziland to demonstrate that the nature of the disease in Africa is not what western physicians believe. He says funding of biomedical research into prevention of the diseases of poverty, such as malaria, tuberculosis and leprosy, is being wrongly diverted into an unsound approach to the HIV/AIDS problem.

Joining him on the panel on Race, Sex and Science: Scrutinizing Media Myths About AIDS in Africa, is Carla Marcelis from Women's Health Interaction (WHI), a voluntary feminist collective concerned with women's rights and social justice in Canada and internationally. The discussion is organized by the African Studies Program at York University and will take place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Senior Common Room, 305 Founders College, Keele St. Campus.

"There is a very loose set of ethical standards being applied in the medical approach to AIDS in Africa that wouldn't pass muster here in the West," says Prof. Pablo Idahosa, coordinator of the African Studies program at York. "It is important that we do not blindly accept conventional wisdom on the subject of HIV/AIDS, given the extent to which bad science has been used to justify what may ultimately prove to be a terrible mismanagement of the disease," he adds.

Charles Geshekter demands a critical reassessment of existing scientific research on HIV/AIDS as it is applied in Africa. Among his conclusions:

  • AIDS scientists and public health planners must reconsider their universal acceptance of the HIV/AIDS model as an explanation for what used to be considered the diseases of rampant poverty in Africa. They should recognize the role of malnutrition, poor sanitation, anaemia, and parasitic and endemic infections in producing clinical AIDS symptoms in individuals who are not HIV positive. As many as 70 per cent of Africans whose symptoms qualify them for an AIDS diagnosis turn out to be HIV negative when tested, says Geshekter.

  • HIV tests are notoriously unreliable among African populations where antibodies against endemic conventional microbes cross-react to produce ludicrously high, false results. For instance, a 1994 study in central Africa reported that the microbes responsible for tuberculosis and leprosy were so prevalent that more than 70 per cent of the HIV-positive test results were false. The study also showed that HIV antibody tests register positive in HIV-free people whose immune systems are compromised for a variety of reasons, including chronic parasitic infections and anaemia brought on by malaria that are widespread in populations with the diseases of poverty.

  • Primary health care systems in Africa will remain hampered until public health planners systematically gather statistics on illness and mortality to accurately show what causes sickness and death in specific African countries. During the past 13 years, as the external financing of HIV-based AIDS programs in Africa dramatically increased, money for studying other health sectors remained static, even though deaths from malaria, tuberculosis, neo-natal tetanus, respiratory diseases and diarrhea grew at alarming rates.

  • The theory that HIV is easily sexually transmitted has now proven false according to the latest studies by Nancy Padian published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The available data on Africa strongly suggest that socio-economic development, not sexual restraint, is the key to improving the health of Africans.

  • Racists myths about African sexuality, and careerism in the scientific community have resulted in grossly inaccurate claims about the extent of the AIDS threat in Africa which have served to justify the use of the continent as a laboratory for vaccine trials and for the distribution of toxic drugs of disputed effectiveness like ddI and AZT. "The catastrophic effects that result from ingesting AZT merit a special place in the medical hall of shame," says Geshekter. He says some international drug companies are now urging pregnant African women who test HIV-antibody positive to take these powerful drugs and to stop breast-feeding their infants.

  • No one has ever shown that people in Rwanda, Uganda, Zaire, and Kenya--the so-called AIDS belt--are more sexually active than people in Nigeria or Cameroon where reported AIDS cases are much lower. Researchers in 1991 from M╚decins San Fronti╦res and the Harvard School of Public Health did a survey of sexual behaviour in the Moyo district of northwest Uganda which revealed that behaviour was not very different from that in the West.

  • Campaigns that advocate monogamy or abstinence and ubiquitous media claims that "safe sex" is the only way to avoid AIDS inadvertently scare Africans from visiting public health clinics for fear of receiving a fatal AIDS diagnosis. Even Africans with treatable medical conditions like tuberculosis who think they have HIV infection fail to seek medical attention because they think they have an untreatable disease.

    This panel discussion is sponsored at York University by the office of the Advisor to the University on the Status of Women, the department of History, the department of Anthropology, the Division of Social Science, the Health and Society Program, the Centre for Feminist Research, the Centre for Human Rights and Equity, the Faculty of Education and Founders College.

    -30-

    For further information, please contact:

    Prof. Pablo Idahosa
    Coordinator, African Studies Program
    Founders College
    York University
    (416) 736-5148
    (416) 658-7265 at home

    Susan Bigelow
    Media Relations
    York University
    (416) 736-2100, ext. 22091
    sbigelow@yorku.ca

    YU/019/00

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