Daily Archives: 9 April 2006

How AIDS in Africa Was Systematically Overstated

A new study reported in the Washington Post (6 April) drastically redefines the extent of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.

The study and similar ones in 15 other countries have shed new light on the disease across Africa. Relying on the latest measurement tools, they portray an epidemic that is more female and more urban than previously believed, one that has begun to ebb in much of East Africa and has failed to take off as predicted in most of West Africa.

Yet the disease is devastating southern Africa, according to the data. It is in that region alone — in countries including South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe — that an AIDS Belt exists, the researchers say….

Years of HIV overestimates, researchers say, flowed from the long-held assumption that the extent of infection among pregnant women who attended prenatal clinics provided a rough proxy for the rate among all working-age adults in a country. Working age was usually defined as 15 to 49. These rates also were among the only nationwide data available for many years, especially in Africa, where health tracking was generally rudimentary.

The new studies show, however, that these earlier estimates were skewed in favor of young, sexually active women in the urban areas that had prenatal clinics. Researchers now know that the HIV rate among these women tends to be higher than among the general population….

In West Africa, Sierra Leone, just then emerging from a devastating civil war, was found to have a national prevalence rate of less than 1 percent — compared with an estimated U.N. rate of 7 percent.

Such disparities, independent researchers say, skewed years of policy judgments and decisions on where to spend precious health-care dollars.

“From a research point of view, they’ve done a pathetic job,” said Paul Bennell, a British economist whose studies of the impact of AIDS on African school systems have shown mortality far below what UNAIDS had predicted. “They were not predisposed, let’s put it that way, to weigh the counterevidence. They were looking to generate big bucks.”

via Foreign Dispatches

Prevalence of male circumcision correlates with lower rates of AIDS.

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Filed under Africa, disease, NGOs

Burma’s Sir Paw Tun in Exile in Simla, 1940s

In the Himalayan foothills near the Solan beer factory [Burma’s ex-prime minister] Sir Paw Tun, the last pre-war prime minister wrote the obituary of the old order in a long, rambling series of letters to [Burma’s ex-governor] Dorman-Smith, part combative, part self-pitying. He wrote as an Arakanese who had imbibed some at least of Britain’s imperial ideas and had tried to reconcile them with Buddhism and his deep sense of Arakanese and Buddhist Burmese identity. He recalled during his school days in a Christian convent he had read Samuel Smiles’s essay on ‘character’. He had prayed daily for his governor, his king and his country. ‘My mother taught me to be absolutely loyal to the British crown’, he wrote. But this was difficult when many British officials acted with arrogance and racial pride. It was natural for well-brought up Burmans to bow before superiors. But more than once he had ‘straightened up from my bending posture to show that he [the British official] no longer deserved respect because he was bullying me’. Mortal man, he said, was liable to be blinded by greed, passion and ignorance. This was particularly true of the old British administration in Burma which knew little of the people or their religion. The British, of course, were not as corrupt as the Burmese ministers such as Ba Maw and U Saw. They were less tempted by money as such, but they still fell victim to ‘other attractions – in some cases women, and in other cases, flattery, platitudes and kow-towing’.

Paw Tun loathed British racism and arrogance, but he believed the Thakins were beneath contempt, merely low-class upstarts. What worried him was the way in which the Thakins and Japanese had rallied the monkhood and the faithful in his ‘priest-ridden country’. He noted how the Japanese were giving liberal donations to the Shwedagon Pagoda and how their commanders had liberally fed the monks and taken part in Burmese religious ceremonies. Despairing of the British, because Dorman-Smith seemed intent on bringing back the new plebeian Buddhism of the Thakins, Paw Tun slowly came to see that he had no future. It was this that lay behind his increasingly erratic behaviour and protacted bouts of illness.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), p. 354

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