Letter: Newspaper myths and the reality of HIV in Africa

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Witherow, acting editor of the Sunday Times, demonstrates his ignorance of HIV/Aids issues and an unfortunate determination to perpetuate the myths put forward in his paper.

Positively Women is a self-help organisation providing support to women living with HIV, primarily in the London area. Since 1990 we have provided services to more than 500 women, many of whom have now died. If Mr Witherow had consulted government statistics and reports he would know that the most recent forecasts of the growth of HIV have been remarkably accurate, that the highest rates of growth in HIV are with heterosexual routes of transmission, not homosexual transmission or transmission via drug use.

He would also know that there are now more than 3,000 women with HIV in the UK and that the UK has so far been very fortunate to have prevalence rates that are much lower than many of our European counterparts. This is undoubtedly due in part to the prompt action taken some years ago by the voluntary sector and the Department of Health, but is no cause for complacency as more and more heterosexuals are diagnosed each day.

To say that there is no connection between HIV and Aids defies all the available research evidence and the experience of people with HIV who see their friends and family members dying and watch the deterioration of their own health.

Mr Witherow's interpretation of the Concorde trials is at best misleading, giving the impression that AZT is useless and harmful, which is as untrue as claiming that it is a cure for Aids (which it is, unfortunately, not). Such statements may have the effect of discouraging people with symptomatic HIV or an Aids diagnosis from considering trying AZT when it may be of help to them. It also ignores recent research that gives strong evidence that pregnant women with HIV may be able to reduce significantly the risk of transmission of HIV to their baby by taking AZT.

Nearly half of Positively Women's clients are of African origin. It is grossly insulting to their daily experience of living with HIV to pretend that there is not a major epidemic of HIV in Africa. Many of our clients have lost several members of their families to Aids and face the prospect of losing many more, both in this country and in Africa.

Yours sincerely,

STEPHANIE ELSY

Director

Positively Women

London, EC1

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