By Kai Wright
Ever hear the one about some psycho who rigs theater chairs with needles containing HIV-infected blood? You sit down in the dark and, boom, you got “the monster”—as AIDS is known to many on the block.
Every few years, a new AIDS conspiracy theory like this one pops up. A recent survey of African Americans found one in four believe the feds created the AIDS virus and more than half think government is hiding a cure. Whether it’s men-in-black or a lone wacko, we’re always looking for the culprit who set this monster creeping. Blacks account for more than half of all new HIV infections each year—among people under 25, it’s more like two-thirds. So some rightly ask: How can that be?
As one researcher put it, conspiracies aren’t just crazy talk; they stem from public health’s own betrayals. Take the recent news that New York City enrolled foster kids—mostly black—in clinical trials for new AIDS drugs without their parents’ consent. Getting into these trials is actually a good thing; not enough blacks get cutting-edge treatments. But city officials could have involved the biological parents. After all, many foster kids are only temporarily separated from their birth families. Instead, the city made the decision on its own. As a result, there’s now renewed skepticism in New York’s ‘hoods about valuable medical treatments.
That said, to deal with AIDS, folks are going to have to separate their imagined enemies from their real ones.
Here’s the 4-1-1 on some of the most lasting AIDS ‘spiracies.
The feds created it. Probably not. This theory, started by Soviet bloc scientists in 1987, has been largely discredited. Most scientists agree HIV’s ancestor is a virus found in African chimps. But how’d it jump to humans? The mainstream view is a “natural” transfer through hunters eating the chimps’ meat. Other research, though, suggests it happened during American experiments for a polio vaccine, which was tested on millions of central Africans in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
It’s a tool for genocide. Close enough. Government may not have made HIV, but it sure helped the spread. As the epidemic started, states began outlawing the possession of syringes, as part of the “war on drugs.” That just encouraged addicts to share needles. Nearly 40 percent of black AIDS cases to date trace directly back to shared syringes.
AIDS drugs are poison. Pretty much. In order to stop HIV’s spread, the drugs break into your cells and block its reproduction cycle. That process keeps you alive—no small victory—but also causes ugly side effects. It’s more like getting chemotherapy—every month, forever—than taking insulin shots.
There’s a hidden cure. Not likely, if for no other reason because patenting a cure would make some drug company serious bank. Still, infected blacks are seven times more likely to die from HIV than whites. There’re a lot of unknowns about why. We do know far more blacks than whites learn they’re infected only when they get sick, at which point treatment is less likely to work. This low-rate of HIV testing in black neighborhoods may be our most clear enemy.