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The Origin of AIDS

Jacques Pepin’s Origin of AIDS is certainly a learning experience. While for many readers there is too much detail to make it worth plowing through, I really recommend it to anyone who appreciates the deep connections between social science, medical science, and human development. I won’t again comment on this book, just merely highlight a few interesting items from it.

  • There was once a man who conducted testicular transplants from chimpanzees to men. Read more here.
  • It was estimated that in the early 1980s in Nairobi (note, not the place where HIV first emerged or was transmitted from), sex workers had on average 1,400 paid intercourses per year.
  • On the treatment of women in Cameroon and Gabon: “The husband, especially if polygamous, could dispose of his property as he wished. One of the wives could be asked to have sex with a friend, a relative or visitor, often for payment to the husband in cash or in kind but sometimes for free, in what corresponded more to ‘sexual hospitality’ than prostitution. In the Belgian Congo … 20 young men might get together to hire a prostitute for up to two months and payment was made to the girl’s mother. The young woman would only do this once in her life, it was not considered dishonorable and would not decrease her chances of getting married later.
  • You’d be absolutely amazed at how much tropical diseases and viral disease transmission was likely due to poorly understood or hubristic medical practices.
  • On Belgian attitudes toward the Congolese: “Despite six years of post-secondary education, the highest level a Congolese could reach under Belgian rule was medical assistant. The Congolese were considered too primitive to become medical doctors, unable to understand the rules of professional conduct and ethics and the infinite value of human life. Strangely enough, at the same time there were already 600 Congolese priests, who had been through six years of university-level philosophy and theology. When the country became independent, only thirty or so Congolese held university degrees earned at home or abroad.”
  • I am sure you realized that while people, if they wish to give blood, must do it as a volunteer, if you wish to give up plasma, you can be paid. It is very well documented at how the sale of blood plasma likely was a key driver in the amplification of the disease once it made its way to the Caribbean and the rest of the West. One donation of plasma was often separated into thousands of treatments, so just one infected and untreated plasma donor could unleash a lot of HIV transmission on people, unknowingly.
  • “This is a reminder that the most dangerous threat to the long-term survival of the human species is the human race itself.”

Have a lovely weekend.

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