Letter: Surprise findings in African Aids study

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The Independent Online
Sir: James Fenton (Comment, 6 December) misunderstands and misrepresents our reports from Africa. He says I 'went to Tanzania and found a case in which HIV incidence in one village was 13.7 per cent', which 'should be enough to frighten anyone'. He omits to mention the vital fact that the medical workers who organised this study had been surprised to find fewer deaths, proportionately, among sick people who tested HIV-positive than among those who were HIV-negative.

The only logical reason seems to be that their so-called 'Aids' illnesses - diarrhoea, TB and skin infections - were treated intensively and effectively with Western medicines. The villagers were promised these medicines, should they test HIV-positive, as an inducement to take part in the study. Such treatment is rarely available to the population at large.

The finding was part of a body of evidence that led the study organisers, after four years' work aided by 230 full-time staff in a province said to be an 'epicentre' of Aids, to drop their previous passionately held belief that HIV causes Aids, and to conclude that 'when you are here, and you have to witness the reality of what happens in the field, you cannot agree with any of the statements they are making in Europe about Aids in Africa'.

In some other African countries there is such a panic over HIV that many hospitals now tell patients who test positive to 'go home and die', one of a number of ill-effects that led Dr Timothy Stamps, Zimbabwe's minister of health and child welfare, to tell us that 'the HIV industry . . . is now in my view one of the biggest threats to health'.

Yours faithfully,

NEVILLE HODGKINSON

Science Correspondent

Sunday Times

London, E1

7 December

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