Rev. Wright and PEPFAR, AIDS Complicity

Scott Swenson

Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments about the government spreading AIDS cannot be considered in isolation any more than the disease itself can be. Congress and the White House are contributing to those theories by failing to act on the evidence they have in hand now on PEPFAR.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments about the government lying about AIDS are not isolated to black America, not even isolated to America at all, but are shared globally. They are not confined to conspiracy theorists or wackos, as difficult as that may be for some people hearing the concept for the first time to understand. Rev. Wright has said,

The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied.

The first African woman to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, shares these views,

In fact it (the HIV virus) is created by a scientist for biological warfare. Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious.

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In 2005, a survey by the Rand Corporation found that half, that's right, one in every two black Americans think AIDS is man-made, more than half believe the government has a cure they are withholding from the poor, and a quarter believe it was created in a government laboratory. As Phil Wilson, founder and Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute, said in the Washington Post when the study was released,

It's a huge barrier to HIV prevention in black communities. There's an issue around conspiracy theory and urban myths. Thus we have an epidemic raging out of control, and African Americans are being disproportionately impacted in every single sense.

Google "government created AIDS" and up pops many sites and theories that AIDS experts have had to work overtime to confront. The "AIDS denialists", people who believe that HIV does not cause AIDS, have been prolific in their attempts to offer different perspectives, some rooted in the beliefs that AIDS was deliberately spread, others believing it was simply an experiment gone awry. Still others believe the drugs (and profits drug companies are making from the disease) are more harmful than the disease itself.

For years, even South African President Thabo Mbeki ignored the devastation his country and continent experienced because he bought into the arguments of AIDS deniers.

When governments become complicit in public health pandemics, who can blame people for speculating?

Legitimate scientists and public health experts counter every argument at AIDS If you have doubts, please visit that site.

In American history, the haunting legacy of the government sponsored syphilis experiments on black men at Tuskeegee, the well documented facts of environmental racism that exposes black families to toxins at a higher rate than whites, and a history of disparities in the health care system for blacks all combine to make the 2005 survey results both shocking, and upon reflection, understandable.

These are the facts and the context from which Rev. Jeremiah Wright spoke, as shocking as those facts are to many Americans, as difficult as his anger is to hear.

What context was Rev. John Hagee speaking from when he called Catholicism a whore-religion? What context were Rev. Jerry Falwell and Rev. Pat Robertson speaking when they claimed the September 11, attacks were God's damnation of America because of abortion and homosexuality? What context does the Rev. Fred Phelps speak from when he says AIDS is God's curse on America as he protests the funerals of American soldiers?

It seems that many people preach extremism that is hurtful and shocking to different segments of American society.

As we've been covering extensively, the Congress of the United States is about to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). But Congress and the White House are unwilling to do what public health experts around the world agree must be done to more aggressively attack HIV/AIDS.

So when it comes to the facts of AIDS, what's worse? Conspiracy theories that contribute to the belief that the government spread AIDS? Or a government that fails to act on the reality-based public health evidence it has, all of which concludes that we must do more, differently, to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa, especially for women and girls?

Congress and the White House could go a long way to silencing the conspiracy theorists by doing what is right on PEPFAR now. The disease is here and spreading at still alarming rates. Those are undeniable facts.

Regardless of its origins, AIDS must be confronted with reality, not politics or feel-good government pandering, throwing more tax dollars at less-than-optimal programs.

To have the facts to fight AIDS more aggressively and ignore them, as Congress and the White House are preparing to do, only adds fuel to the conspiracy fires.

The battle against AIDS is difficult enough as it is. The government must come down decisively on the side of science, public health, prevention, education and treatment based on real evidence, real science and real world experience. Ideology and conspiracy theories only contribute to the further spread of AIDS.

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