Aids in China

by Maria on November 14, 2003

Words fail.



Keith M Ellis 11.14.03 at 9:00 am

That can’t be AIDS, because there’s no HIV infection in China, right? Right?

What comes to my mind in response to this is that as mendacious and evil as this current American administration is, things like this act as a reality check on our moral calibration. Closed, authoritarian societies are inherently more dangerous, at least to their own people, than open, democratic societies.

AIDS is both tragic and interesting because throughout the world it has been highly politicized. Each society’s view and response to it has been heavily filtered through that particular society’s moral and political sensibilities, almost always to the detriment of public health.

And while China’s official blindness to the reality of HIV infection (and its role facilitating a vector, per this article) is a catastrophe, it is ironic that its closed, authoritarian system and relative wealth are an advantage in its attempt to contain it. That is, once it faces reality.

On the other hand, the central African epidemic exists in the worst possible socio/political/economic conditions imaginable for containment of this disease. While the potential scope of infection is enormous in Asia, there is hope for an effective response. There is little hope in Africa, and millions upon millions are dying. I wonder how many African lives 87 billion dollars would have saved.


Maria 11.14.03 at 9:56 am

Yep, that’s pretty much my take on it too. There have been scandals in Ireland and France when government agencies infected citizens with HIV and hepatitis C by transfusing contaminated blood. The questions of who knew what, and exactly when, may never be fully established, but at least in these countries there was a free press, due process, and some level of government accountability (though far from enough I think). In China, the level of callous indifference or sheer contempt for the people by the government really does make my blood run cold.

After I read that article this morning, I read a speech Al Gore made last week on why the Patriot Act should be repealed. Instead of my usual feelings of anger and helplessness at the so-called trade-offs of freedom for security, I just felt glad that in the societies we’re lucky enough to live in, people can still make speeches like that. (well, as long as they’re not anti-war protesters of course…)


Keith M Ellis 11.14.03 at 10:22 am

Maria, have you read Ewald’s “Evolution of Infectious Diseases”? It turns out he was incorrect in his speculation about the origin of HIV; but I think his essential point was right on target and it’s influenced my thinking a great on epidemiology and public policy.

Anyway, I would think that HIV is so widespread, and exists in some greatly varied social contexts such that its transmission vectors are distinct, that the variance in virulence according to vector argued by Ewald to occur could be evident. Well, I guess the problem is that the virulence of HIV is difficult to determine. (None of this will make much sense to you if you haven’t read Ewald.)

But this occured to me becuase this central China situation is mostly (almost exclusively?) a result of a non-host transmission vector, which should increase virulence according to Ewald.


Maria 11.14.03 at 2:03 pm

Hi Keith,

No I haven’t read Ewald at all but he looks fascinating. Should be a nice complement to Solomon. Cheers, M


Johno 11.14.03 at 2:30 pm

What makes this especially sad is that China’s leadership seem not to have learned from the disasters of the past: the home-smelting programs that left villages without any way to cook food; the starvations and murder of the Great Leap Forward; the mob murders of the Cultural Revolution. Not hearing much out of China these days, I had hoped that the liberalization of their economy (such as it is), coupled with their space program’s embrace of 1960’s-era enterprise meant that the country was on a more rational path to progress.

Guess not.


jb 11.14.03 at 3:09 pm

This is what Communism sows, and what Communist countries reap. There is no such thing as “good” Communism. It is indiference, mediocrity and disempathy epitomized, with deadly and widespread consequences.

In my opinion Social progress is progress towards Communism and all the evil it entails.


Cryptic Ned 11.14.03 at 3:18 pm

Well, that must make it easier to choose sides, jb.


Keith M Ellis 11.14.03 at 3:19 pm

Ayn, is that you? Dearie, have you forgotten to take your medication again? And are you calling yourself “jb” now?


Little Papaya 11.15.03 at 6:23 am


Can’t Social progress be progress away from Communism and all the evil it entails? As observed in Estonia, Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and so on over the last decade or so.

I can’t disagree with his characterization of the philosphy as “indiference, mediocrity and disempathy epitomized”. As a resident of Viet Nam – sounds spot on to me. But “deadly and widespread consequences”? Well, deadly boredom, actually. Not much to do on a Saturday night apart from barhopping, and there’s a deficit in English language bookshops.

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