Did colonialism spread HIV through Africa?

By IndepthAfrica
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Feb 28th, 2012
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The HIV epidemic was driven by the colonisation of Africa a century ago, a new book claims.

Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It, attempts to pinpoint the birth and early life of HIV and AIDS.

Considering a wealth of evidence, the authors suggest that the European Scramble for Africa during the late 19th and early 20th century helped turn localised outbreaks of the infection into a global epidemic.

Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin's book supports a wealth of research that suggests that the colonisation of Africa helped spark the HIV epidemicCraig Timberg and Daniel Halperin’s book supports a wealth of research that suggests that the colonisation of Africa helped spark the HIV epidemic

Co-authors Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin told the Washington Post: ‘It’s clear that colonial commerce created massive new networks of sexual interactions – and massive new transmissions of infections.

‘In later decades, transmission through the reuse of hypodermic needles in medical care probably had some role in HIV’s spread as well.’

Looking at previous studies Timberg and Halperin trace the journey of HIV from chimpanzee-to-human transmission in southeastern Cameroon to widespread infection in the trading capital of Kinshasa.

HIV AND AIDS: THE FACTS

HIV is a virus most commonly caught by having unprotected sex or by sharing infected needles to inject drugs.

It stands for human immunodeficiency virus and weakens the ability to fight infections and disease, such as cancer.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, when the body can no longer fight life-threatening infections. There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments to enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.

Many people newly infected with HIV have no signs or symptoms at all. The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have a blood test.

At the end of 2008, an estimated 83,000 adults aged over 15 were living with HIV in the UK. Of these, nearly 30 per cent did not know they were infected.

They highlight that as European powers sought to dominate Africa and Asia from the 1880s to the 1920s the HIV virus gradually spread through trade and disease routes.

‘To fulfill its grim destiny, HIV needed a kind of place never before seen in Central Africa but one that now was rising in the heart of the region: a big, thriving, hectic place jammed with people and energy, where old rules were cast aside amid the tumult of new commerce.’

At the end of 2008, an estimated 83,000 adults aged over 15 were living with HIV in the UK.

Meanwhile The World Health Organization estimates that more than 33 million people around the world are living with HIV.

The virus is particularly widespread in African countries, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Timberg and Halperin add: ‘Without ‘The Scramble for Africa,’ it’s hard to see how HIV could have made it out of southeastern Cameroon to eventually kill tens of millions of people.

‘Even a delay might have caused the killer strain of HIV to die a lonely death deep in the forest.’

Timberg, a former foreign correspondent in Africa, is acting national security editor of The Washington Post.

Halperin was a senior HIV prevention adviser in the U.S. government’s global AIDS program and is now an epidemiologist, studying patterns of disease at the University of North Carolina.daily mail

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