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Origin of HIV: myth and reality

By Dr Sam. A. Okunonzi

The first 14 AIDS patients were from Manhattan and Greenwich Village in New York.

On June 5th 1981, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) reported a cluster of cases of pneumocysitis pneumonia, a very rare condition, in 5 gay men in Los Angeles. This was the discovery of a new disease that would be called AIDS. But the 30-year story of HIV and AIDS commemorated last month is severely truncated. The story typically starts from the first diagnosis of HIV but ignores where, when and how the virus originated. Theories propagated in 1980s by western scientists about the African origin of HIV and AIDS through eating monkeys and chimpanzees became increasingly ridiculous, untenable and laughable, and were quietly discarded. It was a scientific fraud.

By the end of 1981, a total of 121 people in USA had died of AIDS and were from San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. It means they had been infected at least two years earlier – ie 1979. They had never been to African nor eaten monkeys or chimpanzees. The very first AIDS patient was called Gaetan Dugas from Manhattan, New York, referred to as Patient Zero. An epidemic moves from an epicentre to non-infected area and takes time. It follows that from the origin in USA to Africa it took two to five years. The earliest recognised AIDS case in Uganda was diagnosed in 1982, in Kenya 1983, in Burundi 1984, Botswana 1986, and Ethiopia 1987. Between 1981 and 1983, there were 5,660 AIDS cases in the US compared to only 17 for the entire Africa, suggesting that US was the epicentre and origin of HIV/AIDS.


HIV never existed before 1978, when HIV was manufactured in a lab in the USA. The origin of HIV is associated with a programme in the US called the Special Virus Cancer Program (SVCP) which started in 1964 for the “development, production, seeding and deployment of animal cancer and immune-suppressant viruses”. A major activity of this programme was to create mutant viruses by breaking pieces from different viruses and recombining these to create new viruses. The viruses were grown or cultured in human cells, thus making them specific to humans. By 1974 an HIV like virus had been created and consisted of 24% Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV) and 33% Bovine Visna Virus (BVV). In 1985 Science Magazine published an electronic picture of HIV and found that a good part of it was indistinguishable from BVV. Further genetic engineering experiments involved Herpes virus and retroviruses. In 1973, a Danish pathologist, J. Clemmensen, warned at a conference that genetically altered viral agents could cause a global epidemic if they ever left the lab.

Through the SVCP, the entire science and technology of retroviruses and immune response testing were developed before the emergence of HIV/AIDS. T-cells, reverse transcriptase, retroviruses, and the Western Blot testing machine were all discovered/ invented in 1970s, before HIV and AIDS. For a whole decade, researchers at SVCP were “detecting, locating, isolating and culturing retroviruses” before the emergence of HIV/AIDS. A scientist commented: “It is fortuitous that the lentiviruses family waited for 7 million years to become pathogenic to man in 1981 when he had conveniently had the tools to detect locate and culture retroviruses”!

The spread of HIV across the world is linked to the experimental Hepatitis B vaccine which was tested on young volunteer homosexual men from 1978 to 1981 in the United States. This vaccine was contaminated with HIV, probably by mistake. Within three years, 64% of those who got the vaccine had HIV. It would have been useful to determine the genetic sequence of the blood samples of the original patients but the samples are now stored in a freezer sealed by US Department of Justice.

The first 14 AIDS patients were from Manhattan and Greenwich Village, New York. When their addresses were plotted, the New York City Blood Centre, which was administering the Hepatitis B vaccine, was found to be the epicentre of the AIDS disease. Contrary to the puzzlement of AIDS scientists about the origin of HIV being in Haiti (African link), New Yorkers who routinely go for sex tourism in Port au Prince actually took HIV to Haiti in 1979 after Hepatitis experimental vaccination had got under way. So Haiti became the fourth epicentre of HIV/AIDS after New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Hepatitis vaccine was introduced in Kenya, Gambia, Uganda and Zambia in 1981. By 1982 these countries had started experiencing HIV and AIDS. From 1982–1983 the vaccine was introduced in Mozambique, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Swaziland. The AIDS epidemic started in these countries from 1983-1985. The countries became HIV and AIDS epicentres in Africa. This explains why the epicentres are thousands of kilometres a part.

In the early 1980s, Wilson Casselwell, a Scottish surgeon based at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, carried out a study in which he tested 716 sexually active and healthy young adults and compared the results with those of elderly and not sexually active persons. He found that 15% of the young adults were HIV positive but none of the elderly people was HIV positive. He concluded that HIV was not an old disease in Uganda but had only recently reached the country.

The untold story of the origin of HIV has lessons for us all. As a country we need to seek crucial information about the origin of diseases ourselves if common information is deceptive. We should not depend on international experts. Vital information on disease can be suppressed in the interest of one country to the detriment of other countries. Racial bias and profiling have defined the way in which the origin of HIV has been explained. It has been treated as a disease of Africans. We should reject such racial profiling and stick to objectively and scientifically describing diseases.

Disease-causing agents can be manufactured and HIV is an example. It may be accidental, through neglect, deliberate (for example as a biological weapon) or maliciously by rogue scientists. We need to develop capacity to gather intelligence on such agents. The need to check all drugs and vaccines for quality cannot be over emphasised. The danger of importing fake, contaminated and substandard pharmaceutical products is real and increasing. The country must watch out.

Dr Sam A. Okuonzi (PhD) is a Member of the Ugandan Parliament and an international health consultant.

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