Journalist Follows ARV Breadcrumb to Source of Chickenshit

7 Nov

A comment on a blog post I wrote a few months back reminded me about the HIV ‘virgin cure’, the myth that if you have sex with a virgin you will be cured of HIV. With sensationalist media reports, it’s hard to know how often this has really happened, as opposed to how often a case of child sexual abuse was attributed to the ‘virgin cure’. But when HIV is found in children whose mother is not HIV positive in African countries , it can be left implied that the child must have been abused. There are many ways a child could have been infected  (such as unsafe ‘group’ circumcision, contaminated blood transfusion and perhaps others), unfortunately, but they haven’t attracted media attention quite like the ‘virgin cure’ myth.

Just by coincidence, someone else drew my attention to a myth going about in the media in Kenya which authorities and the media (of course) have failed to point out is simply not true: it’s said that antiretroviral drugs can be fed to chickens to make them fatter (also pigs in Uganda). Ridiculous, of course. But how long before it appears in the international media? Some may remember media reports about antiretroviral drugs being use as recreational drugs in South Africa. Later, less well publicized reports, suggest that there may be no truth in the phenomenon. But who cares? I’m sure it sold lots of column inches.

When I was researching circumcision and HIV in Kenya last year, three people, two relatively well educated, made the following comments:

“When asked if he thought people still worry about HIV infection and the threat of infection, a man who works for the VMMC [voluntary medical male circumcision] program said that people do worry, but perhaps less than previously. He also said that women on antiretrovirals can be the most desirable in a community as they look so healthy and fat. A senior government officer said almost the same thing when asked to give her opinion on HIV and circumcision. A mother and housekeeper said that if someone is thin and then receives ARVs, they get fatter and change in other ways too. But she also said that you can tell when someone is infected because they have spots and boils, different skin color and that the part of the face next to the mouth is fatter.” Could this be the source of the ‘chickenfeed’ myth about antiretrovirals?

Why would several people think such a thing? Well, myths travel far and wide. But when I have had the time to check, it’s often not difficult to find such myths being propagated by the media. They can always claim that they are just reporting what they found. But to what extent are they contributing to the myth itself? They don’t usually make any attempt to quash the myth. Take for example the myth that Tanzanian ‘witchdoctors’, conveniently conflated with traditional healers and just about any other ‘occult’ practice you can name, go together to make up a lucrative ‘occult industry’, that does things like attack albinos and chop off their limbs. Of course, some people have attacked albinos and chopped off their limbs, often killing them in the process.

But how many of these attacks were carried out by people who simply thought they would make lots of money? The BBC claimed to have done undercover work showing that there were thousands of dollars to be made. Far be it from the BBC to suggest that they may have been misled by a fervor for easy money that they may have been partly (at least) responsible for when they could instead blow their own trumpet. After over six years of killings, they and the rest of the slavish followers that make up the international media have yet to look back and reconsider some of the things they have written.

Another day’s work, but I’ll get back to it, if someone else doesn’t get there first. At least I know the BBC won’t beat me to it.

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