HIV CAME FROM AFRICA
Dr. Lester CN Simon
Many black people, including those who fiercely defend the notion that they are West Indian and not Africans, become visibly upset when they hear that HIV originated in Africa. Some of them seek refuge in the theory that HIV originated in the USA in some laboratory. Ironically, it is the blind ignorance some black people have of Africa and the selective attention that others pay to Africa that lead to unnecessary misunderstandings.
Africa is the ancestral home of human kind. Africa has built much of the rest of the world by way of exploited materials and slaves. Africa is the ideal, in fact the perfect, natural candidate for the origin of HIV and many other viruses undergoing mutation and passage to humans. The story starts to become murky and unscientific when scientists speculate with no basis in fact. Or worse, use a combination of facts along with their prestige and racial proclivities to blind them to alternative possibilities.
Speculation: HIV jumped from monkey to man in Africa because of Africans eating monkey meat or through some other transmissible route such as scarification. The fact is, no one knows how HIV jumped from monkey to man but jumped it certainly did. It would be just as irresponsible to say that white colonialists in Africa engineered the transmission directly or indirectly from monkey to man.
Recent hard, scientific evidence about the route of HIV out of Africa has been published by Michael Worobey et al in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They tested archived blood samples from Haitian who immigrated to USA after 1975 and progressed to AIDS by 1981. This short time lag is consistent with presumed infection with HIV before they immigrated. The scientists conducted sophisticated laboratory analyses included DNA studies and alignment of the results with HIV molecular data.
Computerized statistics reveled that there were 0.003 chances in 100 that HIV went from Africa to the USA. This extremely low probability is virtually equivalent to nil. Alternatively, there were 99.8 chances in 100 that HIV went from Africa first to Haiti. The scientific work is so remarkable, the scientists estimated that HIV moved from Africa to Haiti some time around 1966 (1962 to 1970). They also estimated that the ancestry of most HIV stains in the USA originated from one common ancestor virus that came from Haiti round about 1969.
Speculation: Having done all the brilliant work, the scientists go on to speculate that based on the period from 1962 to 1970, HIV arrival in Haiti may have occurred with the return of one of the many Haitian professionals who worked in the newly independent Congo in Africa in the 1960s. How now brown cow? Knowing that black people (and all Haitians are not black) have no monopoly on travel between Africa and Haiti, it would be just as irresponsible of me to say that (to put it non-racially) someone other than Haitians brought HIV from Africa to Haiti.
Speculation: The good scientists also stated that the “most parsimonious explanation” for the pattern of the particular subtype of HIV seen in many other parts of the world is that it emanated from “a single founder event linked to Haiti”. No problem so far. But they speculate. “This most likely occurred when the ancestral pandemic clade virus crossed from the Haitian community in the United States”. A clade is a group of organisms believed to have evolved from a common ancestor. It would be just as irresponsible of me to say that HIV went from Haiti to USA via American tourists. Worse, the minister of tourism would probably demand my head on a platter if I were to remind us all that tourism (like HIV) is everybody’s business and, by the way, the beach is just the beginning.
When I hear the word parsimonious, I think of its noun, parsimony, meaning the careful or sparing use of money or other material resources. Immediately, my mind runs to my thesaurus and I recall its synonym, niggardly. And without any stretch of my imagination, I think of the unpronounceable, unprintable “N word”. It serves me right for speculating on scientific data and taking into account my ancestral background.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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