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HIV/AIDS: Unanswered Questions

By L. Nedu
Medical research has already put in so much since the AIDS virus was discovered in 1981. Some of the finding became facts, while some remained mere speculations or suggestions for further research. For example, the suggestion that AIDS originated from Africa is seen by many analysts as a claim politically or racially meant to pin down the scourge on the dark continent. Fred Eno calls it “. . . giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it.”2 The paper: “HIV/AIDS: Implication for National Development,” observes that “if not for prejudice, what makes the place of origin so important as to thwart it from where it was first found, USA?”3 In page 316 of General Microbiology by Prescott et al, the suggestion that HIV/AIDS originated in Africa and then spreading to Europe and the United States of America was made without mentioning that it was first noticed among American Homosexuals.


The reason it was suggested that this disease originated from Africa was because sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence of HIV infections5 and because a related virus, the simian T-lymphotropic virus III (STLV-III) has been isolated from African Green Monkeys. The fact, however, that cases of HIV infection keep increasing in Africa till today has shown that the predominance may not be related to the origin.
Going further from origin, medical research has made us to know that the AIDS virus is a retrovirus of the lentivirinae family. There are two types, HIV-I and HIV-II and the HIV-II is less virulent and has a longer latent stage. We also know that the virus is transmitted by contacts with body fluids via routes of blood, sex, and birth. Millions are already infected, and most of those infected will develop AIDS.


Once the virus enters the body, it depletes the t-helper cells that assist other immune system cells of the body in fighting infections. Following the decline of the T-cell population, the infected person who is now immune deficient becomes open to opportunistic infection – a situation that degenerates to become AIDS. The infectious diseases may include recurrent and long lasting diarrhea, pneumonia, ulcerative lesions of herpes simplex or Herpes Zoaster, and tuberculosis. Cancer, weight loss, rashes and recurrent fever are other symptoms that may occur, including brain defects.
Diagnostic methods have been developed, including the initial ELISA Screening procedure to detect the AIDS antibodies and the confirmatory Western Blot Procedure that involves the isolation of individual viral protein to test if the antibody will recognize specific antigen. Treatment include the use of several antiviral drugs that prolong the life of the patient essentially by slowing down the progression of the disease or by interfering with either the propagation of the virus, or the replication of the initial infected cells, in the host. Many preventive and control programmes exist and vigorous research to find a cure continues.


There are many more things we know about HIV/AIDS, including those not documented but widely believed, like the claims of cure by traditional or miraculous means, and the newest discoveries yet to be popularized, but the greatest concern here is with the questions left unanswered. Most of these questions related to means of transference or contraction, possibilities of a cure, and wrong definitions/prior misconceptions, are left unanswered due to partly failure to obtain answers by medical research. It is also be due to pride of profession or national identity, fear of the unknown future, politics and economical reasons, and even pretence in order to avoid a severe response from the masses. Even the discrepancy between a too social western class and the conservative ethical or religious African class on issues of sexuality, has a way of affecting the discussion among those entrusted with approaches to the control of the HIV/AIDS scourge. In our immediate society, these complications surrounding the HIV/AIDS have contributed in trouncing the successes in its control.



Chapter Two

NATURE OF THE COMPLICATIONS
SURROUNDING THE HIV/AIDS SCOURGE

Problem of the Stigma

Definitely, if HIV/AIDS were not emphasized as a sexually transmitted ailment, we would have had fewer problems in evaluating it. After all, there are other killer-diseases that have no cure, yet they are not dreaded as much as AIDS. People hide the ailment because of the stigma associated with it. But statistically, about 30% of those with AIDS did not get it from sexual means. That is, for every three or four persons you see with AIDS, one might not have gotten it through sexual means!
It would equally be unwise not to mention sexual means as the major means of transfer since that will leave the sexually active society in the mercy of the disease. There is therefore a cause of bias as effort is made both to justify and at the same time to indict the victims. It becomes difficult to decide the presentation of TV programmes on the topic as both the sufferer who needs encouragement and the free who needs to be warned would be watching.


Different Attitude towards Sexuality
The tussle between the promoters of sex and the conservatives on sex, who are both in the forefront of the AIDS prevention campaign, sometimes results in different opinion in regards to means of contracting the disease. The former recommends the use of condoms and guarantees oral sex as risk free as long as there is no sore in the mouth. The later recommends abstinence, and warns that even deep kissing could be a means of HIV transference. Today, many cannot say if kissing presents a risk to HIV infection. The argument between the moralistic and the liberal on whether or not abstinence is possible among youths seemingly influences the recommendations of certain safe sex measures as a resort. Many questions are therefore left unanswered as to why this measures are either safe or not. Also, the Church and other religious bodies, which are supposed to be major agencies for awareness, do very little as they may not agree with the recommended approaches for prevention and even treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Political tussle

Data on prevalence of AIDS are said to have been distorted, as this affected immigration and emigration from the countries involved. It also affects the country’s placement in the global schemes of things, and even the outlook on a continent. A portion in page 683 of General Microbiology by Prescott reads, “First described in 1981 AIDS is the result of a new infection of humans that began in Central Africa as early as the 1950s,”5 Here the truth of where it was found in 1981 was almost lost. However, page 316 of the same book reads that “the origin of the AID virus is not yet known.”6 But while the origin of the virus is contestable, its prevalence in Africa as at today is not. This has not only affected tourism and industry, but also political placement of sub-Saharan African countries, the reason some countries may distort data to show less prevalence.


Economic Reasons
Countries strongly involved in the research, most especially, the smaller organizations that sell the available drugs and are sponsored to carry out control and awareness programmes, would loose their relevance should a simple solution from, say, local means, be accredited. Technological pride and contest, just like in every other development, exists among leading companies in the AIDS research. It is possible that numerical data for a particular society has been increased to attract sympathy by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other foreign sponsors, so as to get sponsored drugs. On the other hand, it is possible that leading health organizations sponsored to check occurrence of the epidemic in a community have in some cases reduced numerical data to exaggerate their success. The large sums of money that surrounds the HIV/AIDS research and control also carries with it certain misappropriations.
Copyright © 2011 Delizon Publishers