Statistical Medicine, pt2

March 6, 2007

BAD MEDICINE

The biggest reason that statistical medicine in general and AIDS specifically really steams my boat is the situation in Africa. In Africa today if you die of an AIDS-related illness you are classified as an AIDS death whether you have been diagnosed with HIV or not. Really. Even in South Africa with a first world infrastructure this is true.

The reason is not insidious. It is just too costly to test a person who is already dead of, say, pneumonia for HIV so it is just classified as an AIDS death. Statistics from AIDS related deaths are then extrapolated to provide assumed HIV infection rates amongst the rest of the population. That’s why the statistics are so high in Africa (and we use a different, less reliable test more likely to show false positives- because it’s cheaper).

There are no reliable statistics that show the death rate as a percentage of population in Africa has increased from disease in the last 20 years. The reason is simple: there are no reliable long-term statistics in Africa. Period. Again the closest you get is South Africa post 1994 when we got our first properly democratic government (hopefully the USA and China will follow our example soon). Even then statistics are not close to properly reliable until, perhaps, 2000 onward.

The biggest killers in South Africa are still Cancer and Heart Disease. The same as the rest of the world. I do advocate the promotion of condoms, especially in those who get lucky a lot, to prevent the spread of diseases but AIDS drugs are expensive on a continent that has much larger problems.

People in Africa need houses. People in Africa are starving. People in Africa are being massacred by brutal regimes. Yet there is no profit in attending to these needs so they do not get addressed. Do you provide medicine to one person with HIV or feed 20? Do you try and save one person from AIDS or do you save 10 children from being turned into killers?

The money put into AIDS goes straight back to the USA and Europe via pharmaceutical companies. Money put into housing, food aid, debt relief, or encouraging democracy and education does not. It only benefits that country.

For anyone out there who thinks Africa creates it’s own problems I have for you this to say. Countries with no mineral wealth in Africa, almost always, are peaceful. If you have nothing the developed and developing world wants you end up in a war only when armies are ousted from one of the countries that do and are looking for more soldiers.

The son of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, pled guilty recently to a charge of trying to overthrow an African government (Ivory Coast I think) to try and get that country’s mineral rights. He was caught trying to flee South Africa after it all went wrong.

I kid you not at all.

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