By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
AIDS — Africa’s Neutron Bomb
Expecting to be part of the company the next year, I figured it would still be there for me; but I never got that close again.
As I fast-forward to 2010, the possibility of being on African soil looms again with the next edition of soccer’s World Cup.
With Africa the center of humanity’s universe in this event, please consider this sobering reminder that evil prospers when good men and women do nothing…
The 1980s will forever be known as the era when a big disease with a little name wreaked havoc upon an unsuspecting society.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and the virus associated with it
(Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV) cut a swath of destruction throughout the world, creating epidemics across five continents and a pandemic in its supposed place of origin, sub-Saharan Africa.
While much of the dialogue has focused on socially and environmentally produced conditions, what seems to have not been said loudly enough is the sub-Saharan region approximately 30 years ago was more than a disaster area — it was (and still is) a war zone.
Not due to tribal conflict, border disputes, or famine; but because these lands were destroyed by a bomb.
Sam Cohen, inventor of the neutron bomb concept in the 1950s, wanted to create a weapon that would kill an enemy, but leave infrastructures (buildings, highways, bridges, etc.) intact, without the long-term radiation by-products that poisoned land, air, water and mineral resources.
Does this sound like a plot from a science-fiction flick? Sadly, no — Cohen’s ideas took shape and were made real as thousands of these bombs were produced worldwide.
This bomb — AIDS — ‘landed’ in Africa — and as with most war zones, the first to enter after the impact are the doctors. To treat the injured, assess damage and offer comfort where possible.
Since 1999, that has been the mission of Doctors Without Borders (DWB), a worldwide concern offering humanity in those most inhumane of places.
Rachel Cohen is the director of the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, and her organization seeks to provide more than a stethoscope.
“We (DWB) had been doing work around the globe aware of the growing AIDS situation in the early to mid-1990s,” said Cohen. “Our focus initially was in hospice care and providing what comfort we could.
“In 1999, however, the focus changed to treatment through anti-retroviral therapy, due to the alarming rate infection across the sub-Saharan region.”
According to the United Nations initiative on AIDS (UNAIDS) statistics, over 28 million are living with HIV/AIDS in the region, a number far eclipsing any other anywhere.
From this reality, the years between the initial strafing of Africa with AIDS and present-day provide a clear indication everything below the Sahara has experienced each facet of what would be, in an earlier era, a nuclear explosion — flash, shockwave and fallout.
Building the Bomb/The Flash
Like-minded government individuals sought to find a chemical solution to a nuclear option, and found one in using retroviruses as the trigger for the ultimate weapon.
Retroviruses act in reverse — that is, they produce in a backward manner. As DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is considered the material of life, retroviruses are programmed to nullify the effects of DNA, gradually eating away at the body’s ability to ward off illness.
Having discovered the source for this weapon, these retroviruses were a culmination of continued experimentation, combined with other animal species for the express purpose of having them ‘jump’ from various species (i.e. mouse to cat, cat to sheep) until suitable for human exposure.
Once completed, these bombs were set off in an area deemed prime for what would be fulfillment of Cohen’s neutron premise — maximum loss of life with minimum collateral damage.
The epicenter of the first strike was Uganda, where an early concentration of cases popped up. Because this flash effect generated no resounding boom anywhere else, it was not given immediate attention; however anyone having driven or flown through a storm knows: thunder makes noise, but lightning does the damage.
AIDS was definitely lightning.
In the aftermath of the AIDS explosion, DWB began to look beyond the destruction and consider another factor. “The biggest obstacle in getting things done abroad isn’t volunteers or equipment; it’s money,” says Ms. Cohen.
“Specifically, the cost of the drugs for the most effective therapy — the AZT ‘triple cocktail.’
“Under conditions where someone could afford treatment, the cost would be $15,000.00 per person/per annum. Patents for some of the drugs sometimes hinder our ability to use generics, and only make our work more difficult.”
According to Ms. Cohen, the DWB staff of medical and non-medical workers, in their overall assessment of the region’s demise is mutual. “If they were treating HIV patients in their respective countries with the same numbers of infection and conditions, there would be hell to pay.”
As more diagnoses of AIDS appeared, blame for spreading the disease moved like the virus itself, jumping from unprotected gay sex to straight sex to sharing dirty needles to being Haitian; a dirty rumor which was aided by a former sociopath and ex-mayor of one of America’s largest cities.
But when an explanation as to what was happening in Africa was needed, the response was this sickness was an anomaly — something that had mutated from a monkey virus and jumped species to humans.
Since the monkeys in question were native to the area, the logic of this carried some weight.
Because of the carnage amassed by the AIDS pandemic in Africa, the possibility of this disease being part of an ethnic-cleansing scenario has made more than a paranoid few sit up and take notice.
Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, openly expressed her fear AIDS was indeed a biological weapon developed specifically to destroy Black people.
In a 2004 interview with TIME Europe, Ms. Maathai, who was beaten and arrested for planting trees in a statement about the environment, said “I have no idea who created AIDS; but I do know things like this don’t come from the moon. I have always thought that it is important to tell the truth, but I guess there is some truth that must not be too exposed.”
When pressed on whether she meant AIDS, Maathai replied, “Yes, I am referring to AIDS. I am sure people know where it came from. And I’m quite sure it did not come from the monkeys. Why can’t we be encouraged to ask ourselves these questions?”
Dr. Robert Gallo, a researcher working for the National Cancer Institute (NCI), claimed credit for ‘discovering’ the AIDS virus in 1984, only to later share credit with a French team of physicians led by Luc Montagnier.
After patents were filed, research in finding drugs to treat/cure AIDS began in earnest.
Meanwhile, Africans infected by HIV/AIDS would develop flu-like symptoms, rashes, diarrhea, headaches and swollen lymph glands.
While the virus could be detected in the blood, most of the damage is done throughout the lymphatic system (lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus, tonsils).
Like with any attack upon the body, the natural immune defenses are released through production of T-cells, and this production stays high until the condition stabilizes.
Unfortunately, depending on one’s personal health, stabilization was difficult if you lived in a region where health care was sub-standard to begin with.
In addition to long-standing problems with tuberculosis, malaria, poverty and lacking any sense of urgency combined to further compromise the fates of all affected.
Being unable to have a firm hand in its own destiny may be part of the problem. Nigerian author Dr. Chinua Achebe, known for his landmark novel “Things Fall Apart,” revealed in a 2001 article with this writer for the Poughkeepsie Journal that AIDS was “part of the working out of the end of colonialism.”
“People don’t want to accept the fact that Africa’s predicament may have something to do with the last hundred years or so, from 1884, when the continent was cut up by European powers at a conference.”
“Although independence came with (Kwame) Nkrumah’s Ghana in 1957, just saying you are free after being in bondage mentally and spiritually for 100 years doesn’t work the magic,” Achebe said.
So immune systems stay on high alert, and like any machine, parts without maintenance equals breakdown. With the decrease in T-cell production, other infections (oral and vaginal) set in.
As the body expends all of its energy fighting HIV, vulnerability to anything increases until infections most healthy bodies can fend off (i.e. pneumonia, TB, syphilis) with little resistance opportunistically destroy the host.
From this mushroom cloud of infection, the very old to the very young are tossed into a maelstrom of chaos. As the last shockwaves echo throughout Africa, part of a continent holding ten percent of the world’s population is now home to over two-thirds of everyone living with AIDS worldwide.
If you go by Robert Zachritz’s observation, those numbers are more than shocking. As Senior Policy Advisor for HIV/AIDS & Food Security for World Vision, Inc., Zachritz doesn’t mince words. “In my opinion, AIDS is the greatest humanitarian tragedy of all time.
“We’re accounting for 8000 deaths a day — over twice the numbers lost in September 11th.Those same numbers over a month’s time are greater than the tsunami that killed 150,000 human beings.”
“A catastrophe the size and scope of ’9/11′ a day and a ‘tsunami’ a month? What war or natural disaster has done more than AIDS?”
Rory Anderson sees an even bigger problem. As World Vision’s Senior Policy Advisor on Africa, she knows there are further issues than who dies. “With what we can do for those that are dead or dying, the survivors, quite often children or the very old, become the focus.”
“A grandmother who has to take care of 20 kids with no or little food to feed them; and no school to attend lead to destruction of the social infrastructure.”
Robert Zachritz says it’s worse than that. “In all the countries we’ve gone in, I can guarantee you any AIDS patient will ask two questions — ‘Do you have any food?’ and ‘Who will take care of my children?’ Even if we had enough drugs to treat every AIDS case, malnutrition would nullify much of what benefits they (drugs) could bring.”
According to numbers by UNAIDS, approximately 42 million people became infected by 2002, with an additional 13,700 adults and children becoming infected each day.
By 2010 and the World Cup having been hosted on African soil for the first time, it is calculated that another 45 million will fall prey to the virus.
Given the ratio, that forecasts to another 30 million afflictions in Africa. In South Africa, host country for the Cup, over 20 percent of the country’s total population has AIDS.
In Zimbabwe,it’s 34 percent.In Botswana, it’s 39 percent.
Whether male or female, living in urban or rural settings, the scope of AIDS fallout blankets the continent like rainy season on the Serengeti.
Among 15-24 year olds in countries like Burundi, Kenya and Zambia, statistics show infection levels of 20 women for every 10 men, producing two lethal by-products: marked changes in life expectancy, and increased infant/child mortality rates.
Zambian life expectancy has decreased an average of 17 years between the years 1990-2005; while mortality rates run 215 deaths for every thousand children under age five in Mozambique.
Which eventually leads to no parents at all — over 14 million AIDS orphans throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Beyond the lack of parental support and direction, grieving, severe disintegration of an educational system, social programs, workforce or military, one can easily envision walking into an area the aboriginals can’t claim because they’re too weak to defend.
Add the awareness of and delayed response to this pandemic, and you can see in its basest form, HIV/AIDS’ fallout as a vehicle for population control.
Unlike the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, there are no hard targets here; merely soft targets suffering hard consequences.
Joni Bishop is the Director of Development & Public Relations for BEBASHI, an AIDS treatment center in North Philadelphia.
For her the facts and figures of AIDS abroad are looking more and more familiar at home. “The face of AIDS in the United States today has become darker and female,” says Ms. Bishop.
“In the time I’ve been here, we’ve seen a marked increase in minority women — especially single moms. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are now over a million cases in the U.S., and a large concentration of the newer ones are showing up in the Southern states — the support services aren’t there and information isn’t as available.
“Many times people come in too late because they’re thinking they just have the flu, so they try to wait it out.”
The BEBASHI Center has spent years helping the community, but they’re not a stand -still entity. “We do whatever it takes,” says Bishop.
“Our outreach teams hit the streets, go to churches, after-school programs; we’re not above using anything to get the word out or offer assistance.”
Most times this means working with not much of a financial leg to stand on. The Center for Disease Control’s figures of one million AIDS cases and recent actions on the government’s part don’t seem to reflect helping the situation.
“The (Federal) administration pledged $15 million to Africa for aid, but they cut the Ryan White Title I funding which is an essential part of primary care and case management.”
So given the numbers on both sides of the world, is there a plot to eliminate Black people through administering AIDS? “We’ve heard that from many places,” exclaimed Bishop.
“Is it a government conspiracy? I would say, let’s not point fingers — we have a human condition to deal with that requires everyone being on the same page. This (AIDS) is a preventable disease, and information is the best weapon.”
For those that may have asked questions prior to and after the syphilis experiments of the 1930s, the Central Intelligence Agency’s alleged selling of crack cocaine in south central Los Angeles, or remember the plot of the action film “Three the Hard Way” but didn’t get a suitable answer, the present has brought forth someone who did.
Dr. Leonard Horowitz, a public health professional, reviewed numerous viral vaccine studies that were conducted simultaneously in New York City and Central West Africa by a group of virologists working for military/medical contractors under the umbrella of the NCI and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dr. Horowitz’s delving uncovered facts about the biological weapons race of the 1960s and early 1970s, when these researchers were experimenting with antidote vaccines for “defense and cancer prevention.”
In 1997, his book, “Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola” meticulously lays out a paper trail (with copies of documents) giving steel to Wangari Maathai’s notion that AIDS did not “come from the moon.”
(Note: Jennifer Ruth, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control, was contacted with regard to the CDC’s position on AIDS and any conspiracy notions surrounding creation. Ms. Ruth agreed to fax over a 1999 statement regarding this, but as of the time of this writing, it has not yet been received.)
Regardless of wherever AIDS came from, groups like Doctors Without Borders and BEBASHI do their best to offer aid and comfort to those who need it.
“The most distressing thing,” sighs Bishop, “is how heartbreaking it is to hear over and over people saying, ‘I know someone who has it’ or ‘I know someone who has died from it.’”
Pandora goes to Ghana
It is difficult at times to see some light from Africa regarding the AIDS crisis, but as with every movement, there are those who do their part under the radar, attempting to keep hope enclosed in Pandora’s Box.
Dr. Jayci Knights is an area physician who works as an OBGYN at Cooper University Hospital. For the past few years, Dr. Knights has traveled to Ghana, spending a considerable amount of her 2-3 weeks’ vacation helping out in clinics there.
What immediately sets Ghana from other countries in Africa, according to Dr. Knights, is its stability. “The government has been in place for awhile and they have made consistent efforts to address the AIDS issue,” says Knights. “Their greatest environmental concern is malaria — but their medical infrastructure is good.
“There are health care organizations that offer fee-for-service clinics; unfortunately, the cost is above the means of those who need it most. In that regard, there needs to be a better effort to make the fees reasonable and affordable as well.”
On the state of AIDS there, Dr. Knights reveals Ghanaians have been receptive to prevention, having been witness to the tragedies beyond the Sahara.
“I would say the HIV rate there is one of the lowest — about 3-7 percent of adults, an amazing number given comparison to a place like Swaziland, which has an over 40 percent infection rate.
“Location aside, Ghana does a great job of presenting information to everyone. You have billboards advertising use of condoms, safe sex and having sex with an exclusive partner, as well as abstinence and production of television commercials. Without trying to be funny, I can say the ‘Trojan man’ is looking to make a presence in the Mother Land.”
When it comes to taking care of little ones, however, Dr. Knights is all business and then some. Pity the red cap that picks her up at the airport, because Dr. Knights does not pack light — several “goodie bags” full of medicines to aid the cause.
“I petition the government a year in advance to bring in an extra 50 kilograms to avoid problems on arrival; and being able to bring samples and generics is vital because of the cost factor.”
In thinking about the idea of whether AIDS was designed to be the Final Solution for Black people, Dr. Knights sees it from both sides. “As a physician reading the data, I would have to say no; but as a Black person detached from what I do for a living, I’m thinking something else.”
Speaking as a doctor again, what is the prescription for a young woman with HIV or an expectant mother? “The major thing is they need to be tested,” says Knights.
To encourage testing because of the medical, emotional and psychological aspects connected with having HIV.
“If a mom-to-be has HIV, AZT (zidovudine) has shown to be very effective in reducing rates of infection in newborns — on an average from 23 percent (normal) to 8 percent — when we can catch it early.”