Out of Africa – Aids is not monkey business…
Journalist, Bob Brockie, wrote in his column at the Dominion Post newspaper in Wellington, New Zealand, about 20 years of solid research made to discover the causes of Aids. There is no doubt that it was caused by a virus called HIV-1.
But Mr Brockie said that not everybody believes that. The just resigned South African president and his health minister believed it was caused by poor nutrition and urged victims to eat garlic, lemons and olive oil to avoid anti-Aids drugs which they claimed were poisonous.
There have been some curious beliefs that have persisted about the Aids virus:
In 2002, Boyd Groves, an American medical researcher, released secret government documents that he believed proved that the US and Soviet Governments had set about reducing the world’s population by developing the Aids virus in 1962, a virus they knew would target black Africans. In 2001 Dr Groves petitioned the the US Supreme Court to have the programme dismantled – his case was dismissed as frivolous.
Many people still believe the virus moved from monkeys to humans in contaminated polio vaccines; monkey kidneys were used in early versions of the vaccine and the pandemic spread as it was used worldwide.
This belief had disasterous results in Nigeria, where villagers denied their children their polio shots on the grounds the vaccine was contaminated with the Aids virus. As a consequence the number of Aids cases doubled by 2004.
According to Mr Brockie, the truth about the origin of Aids has just come to light with the discovery that the virus first infected people about a century ago (NATURE, October 2).
The proof, according to Mr Brockie comes in the form of some old biopsy specimens, taken in 1959 and 1960 from a woman in a Congolese hospital at Kinshasa and made into microscope slides. These were recently rediscovered and tested by a team of dna specialists who found the woman who had carried the Aids virus.
Led by Michael Worobey of the US, the scientists unravelled the woman’s viral dna, which they compared with dna taken from a 1959 infection in Zaire, and about 200 more infections from around the world.
Using what is called the “molecular” clock, these scientists calculated that people were first infected with the virus between 1884 and 1924 – more likely 1908.
They think the disease passed undiagnosed through two generations of people before infecting the Kinshasa woman in 1960, some 20 years before it surfaced as a pandemic in America.
Where did the Aids virus come from? The Congo of 1908 was a very different place than the present day Congo, with many villagers then eating jungle animals as a matter of course. Chimpanzees up river from Kinshasa carry a a type of Aids virus as a ‘silent’ infection. Their viral dna and the Kinshasa woman’s dna are strikingly similar. Dr Worobey’s team think somebody became infected by eating chimpanzees about 1908 and that by 1960 the much mutated infectation reached Kinshasa.
Fortunately the South African president and health minister have both been replaced by more sensible politicians who have to struggle with 1700 Aids infected people every day. At last a commonsense approach is being carried out.
Bob Brockie, Dominion Post,Wellington,NZ
Refer to NATURE,October 2 2008