Letter: Newspaper myths and the reality of HIV in Africa

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The Independent Online
Sir: The issues surrounding HIV, especially in developing countries, are complex, and the Sunday Times, has consistently failed to understand them, as is shown by the letter from John Witherow (30 June). Many of the agencies which are members of the UK Non Governmental Organisation Aids Consortium have worked for many years in Africa and they and their African partners are now seeing a reverse of the gains in health they had observed until the early 1990s.

There is no doubt whatever that there is a new and different disease in many parts of Africa, and that this disease is causing the premature death of thousands of men, women and children. The spread of HIV has in every area preceded the increasing number of deaths. No other identifiable changes have occurred which account for the increased illness and death.

Mr Witherow also displays his lack of understanding in his statement that 'other diseases, especially TB, are the real cause of many deaths'. Of course, at a simplistic level, this is true. TB is increasing rapidly in Africa, as it is in parts of the US. It is mainly because of its interaction with HIV that this is happening. If people with latent TB infection also have an immune system weakened by HIV, they are more likely to develop active TB and die. In studies in Zaire and Ivory Coast, up to 43 per cent of people dying with HIV infection also have TB. In a study in Abidjan in 1991, TB was the leading cause of death among people who were HIV-positive, and the leading cause of death of more than half of those who had Aids-defining pathology.




Steering Committee of the UK NGO Aids Consortium

London, SE1

30 June