Tuesday, 13 May 2008

How we're being lied to about AIDS

[...] The Wisdom of Whores, published this week, condemns the global strategy for Aids as an ill-conceived waste of money which is not saving but costing lives.

"HIV is mostly about people doing stupid things in the pursuit of pleasure or money," declares the cover on a proof copy of the book. "We're just not allowed to say so." She suspects she will never work in the Aids industry again for saying so. "But it's true."

Pisani, 43, spent 10 years working in the field of HIV, first for Unaids and then for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Indonesia. As an epidemiologist, she quickly identified the risk of the virus spreading among drug injectors, gay men and the sex trade across Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe - underdeveloped countries with inadequate resources to prevent an epidemic. That placed 100 million at risk in Asia alone - equivalent to a third of the population of the Africa. But the data was clear: "HIV wasn't going to rage through the billions in the 'general population'. And we knew it."

Like most of her colleagues, however, she also quickly realised that "governments don't like spending money on sex workers, gay men and drug addicts". So she put her skills as a former journalist to work, and began producing the sort of reports that persuaded politicians in Washington and the west that it is not "wicked people" but "innocent wives" at risk. "Aids couldn't be about sex and drugs," she explains. "So suddenly it had to be about development, and gender, and blah blah blah."

The strategy was more successful than she could ever have imagined. "All these obsessively politically correct things started getting introduced." HIV publications and conferences began devoting more time and attention to issues such as poverty, gender, development, vulnerability, leadership - what Pisani calls "sacred cows" - than to condoms and clean needles. "I'm just waiting for 'climate change and Aids'," she jokes sarcastically in her book - and sure enough, this week a headline appeared in an Australian newspaper: "Global warming set to fan HIV." Read more

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