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Hidden agendas in the global AIDS campaign

By Carey Roberts
web posted October 22, 2007

Over the last 25 years, scientists have sampled a smorgasbord of strategies to halt the spread of AIDS: anti-retroviral drugs, vaccines, HIV testing, and so-called "safe sex" advice. Yet this modern-day Black Plague still spreads unchecked and now claims 3 million lives each year. "Unqualified failure" is the phrase that leaps to mind.

But a few years ago someone came up with a bright new idea – why not have persons  take a protective drug just before becoming exposed to the deadly Human Immunodeficiency Virus? Hence the idea of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – PREP – was born. Enterprising scientists cranked out research proposals and drug companies revved up production lines.

One promising drug was tenofovir, a medicine far cheaper than the other medicines. Groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation lined up to invest millions to test this new wonder potion.

In Cambodia scientists wanted to try out tenofovir with prostitutes, known to be at especially high risk. But activists got wind of the study and began to stage protests at international conferences. Needless to say, the study never got off the ground.

A second attempt in the Cameroon fared somewhat better. The researchers managed to enroll 400 sex workers ("sex workers" -- isn't that an interesting euphemism?). But then activists accused sponsor Family Health International of treating the women as "veritable guinea pigs" and a local TV station ran an exposé on the controversial study. In 2005 the Cameroon Ministry of Public Health pulled the plug.

Time for Plan B.

If tenofovir is too controversial, why not teach at-risk women to apply a vaginal gel that contains a virus-killing agent? The researchers theorized the vaginal microbicide would stop the transmission of the dreaded HIV virus into the woman's body and halt the heterosexual spread of the disease.

So once again they shopped around for prostitutes, this time launching their study in three African countries. But the initial results proved disastrous -- the women who used the vaginal gel more than three times a day had an increased risk of acquiring the feared HIV.

That wasn't the result they had hoped for. But the foundations had oodles of research money to hand out and scientists had resumés to expand. Plus, the activists were now claiming vaginal gels were a boon to female autonomy and self-empowerment. Who could argue with that?

So Family Health International launched a full-scale study in South Africa, Uganda, Benin, and India, this time using a new compound called cellulose sulphate. But early analyses revealed, once again, that women who used the vaginal gel were more likely to get the HIV virus. The decision was made this past January to abort the high-profile study.

The stoppage created a furor. Headlines in the local newspapers screamed, "Medical research trial guinea pigs contract HIV" and "Study to prevent AIDS left me infected." Persons claimed that women were being "bought" to sleep with HIV-infected men. Women enrolled in other vaginal gel studies began to pull out. And one man burned his partner's gel supplies.

But the question still remained, why were the women who used the gel more likely to become infected?

That mystery was solved a few months ago. An article in the recent August issue of AIDS Education and Prevention announced this common-sense finding: "Frequency of sex increased significantly after enrollment. This increase appears to be owing to perceived protection from HIV and greater sexual pleasure afforded by the gel."

Yet the authors did not suggest the vaginal gel might have been responsible for imposing a gruesome death sentence on unsuspecting persons, and proffered no hint of remorse.

From the very beginning, the campaign to stop Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome has been held hostage by a variety of groups wielding narrow ideological and political agendas: the gay rights lobby demanding that public health programs not stigmatize homosexuals; the radical feminists with their gender liberation crusade; the Zero Population Growth zealots; and the funding organizations with their left-leaning schemes.

And let's not forget the United Nations AIDS program that has been known to inflate disease statistics in order to justify its lavish budget.

When all is said and done, the deadly virus continues its ghoulish march. But there is a proven way to stop the global AIDS epidemic: Have sex only with a single partner in a long-term committed relationship.

It's that simple. One of these days, we'll all figure that lesson out. ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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