The following is only a conspiracy theory. Because we're discussing a conspiracy here, it's sinister & chilling. Because we're presenting a theory here, it's unproven -- some even argue, debunked.
Still, as far as conspiracy theories go, this one is entirely plausible.
We stumbled onto this serendipitously, via the award-winning film The Origins of AIDS. To us, the global HIV crisis is more than a health-care issue, relevant only to narrow social groups. We consider this a national security issue for great powers, especially India.
Curiously, India has a bit role in this conspiracy theory, not -- thank heavens -- as the villain, but as a disturbing participant in an epic & noble experiment, allegedly gone wrong.
The film is based on, & extends, the work of former BBC correspondent Edward Hooper, whose 1999 book The River : A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS shook up the global scientific establishment. The roots of his thesis lie in a 1992 Rolling Stone article by Tom Curtis where he connected the HIV virus to 1950s polio vaccinations in Belgian Congo under the supervision of a medical legend, Dr. Hilary Koprowski (we've linked his defense here). The authors date the first known HIV infection to just after the vaccinations, and locate the infection precisely where the vaccines were given.
The polio vaccine was a profound gift to millions of children who might have been afflicted otherwise. But, the scientific battles for whose vaccine should prevail and how these vaccines were produced are less than noble when the curtains are lifted.
First, Dr. Jonas Salk invented the vaccine. But, his vaccine required injections. Hilary Koprowski, among others, raced to develop oral vaccines to replace Dr. Salk's injections. In all cases, the vaccines were created in live animal tissue cultures, mainly from monkeys -- bulk of them exported from India (see link about ban of export of monkeys by Indian government).
The treatment of these monkeys in vaccine manufacture is shocking, to say the least. At least this vegetarian blogger was surprised to learn that polio vaccines are anything but vegetarian! We're glad we got the vaccine, though!!
Here's the problem. When vaccine is cultivated in animal tissue, animal viruses can contaminate the vaccines. There is indeed some evidence that monkey viruses did contaminate some vaccines -- which are now allegedly linked to cancer. The greater allegation -- one at the heart of the conspiracy theory -- is that Dr. Koprowski's team in Belgian Congo cultured the vaccine in chimpanzee tissue (this allegation has been hotly disputed), and because the chimpanzee has an SIV (simian immuno-deficiency virus), the ancestor of HIV, the theory goes the virus jumped from chimp to human.
The scientific establishment believes in a different theory, called the cut hunter theory. It holds that HIV infected humans through the hunting and handling of chimpanzees, some of which harbor a closely related virus called SIVcpz. This "natural transfer" theory holds that a "cut hunter" was infected, and then urbanization, the use of dirty needles in medical campaigns, increased geographic mobility, and other effects of modernization in Africa caused the epidemic to explode.
Imagine the consequences if the vaccine theory were to be true instead. Afterall, hunting of chimps has been going on for centuries -- and surely hunters have been cut before. Why did HIV emerge in the 1950s, not before? Apart from the profoundly tragic hysteria that might break out against polio vaccines, there is the political matter of the implication that it was the West that gave the virus to Africa. Then, there are scientific reputations at stake.
So, the scientific establishment, including the Royal Society has gone out of its way to debunk this theory. The problem is that the motives of the debunkers are suspect -- afterall, their reputations are on the line. Hence, an alleged conspiracy of silence has followed.
As we said, this is only a theory -- still unproved, and likely unprovable because the data needed for proof lies with the people most at risk from such proof. And, we obviously think that the polio vaccine was a magnificent breakthrough. BUT, there are larger issues here and, hopefully, someday, the world will learn the truth about what really happened in Belgian Congo, whose impact is now possibly being faced around the world.
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