It all began in 1981 when rare tumors known as Kaposi’s Sarcoma began to be seen throughout San Francisco. In two years doctors knew of the intrinsic relation between these rare tumors and the four H’s: homosexuals, heroin addicts, haemophiliacs and Haitians. The causative virus, HIV was isolated in 1983. The most significant aspects of the micro-biology regarding HIV was typing the various strains of the virus along with catching the virus’ disconcerting capacity to mutate. The virus’s willingness to mutate was a boon for micro-biologists who knew that mutation was an invitation to map out its history.
Welcome to the rich world of mapping out the pre-history of HIV.
Jacques Pepin’s book “The Origin of Aids” by CUP is out and worth the $30. It’s a sober and brilliant account of what happened before 1981 and why. This is scientific history at its most compelling reading. Pepin is a master of explaining the epidemiological facts. What Pepin finds is unique to Aids.
By studying the genomies of the virus, extensive blood samples along with other needle transmitted diseases related to Haiti throughout the 1960’s brings us to the Congo!
The U.N. sent thousands of professionals and humanitarian workers to the newly independent Congo, their arrival back in Haiti would bring the origin of Aids to the Americas about 1960. Pepin’s research takes him to several laboratories owned by Papa Doe’s henchmen named Luckner Cambronne (1929-2006). He along with Joseph Gorinstem from Miami ran the Hemo-Caribbean blood supply clinic throughout Haiti. Here we can discover the first Congo-Haitian viral load left behind. Our author does not slide past the massive sex trafficking that Haiti has suffered for decades, not to mention risky commercial blood operations that spread throughout the Haitian countryside.
For Jacques Pepin, the origin of American Aids is the African Congo via Haiti. His conclusion grants that a very closely related virus of chimpanzees called ‘Simian Immunodeficiency Virus’ (SIV) is hardly new. What is new is the rigorous epidemiological analysis of human groups living in close proximity to primates carrying SIV.
For the micro-biologists who read this blog please know the following: the epidemiology fits the genomic analysis of an extremely flexible retrovirus. Our author, Jacques Pepin would place the first appearance of HIV around 1920 Congo, Africa.
We should know that the Congo had the most extensive colonial medical services in Africa. Mobile units thrived in the countryside. What this extensive network didn’t have was enforced norms regarding clean needles. Conditions on the ground meant that reused, dirty needles was the norm. Pepin studied needles over 50 years old, used to study colonial hepatitis A/B that were still being used in Africa for his study! By the 1950’s HIV was smoldering in Africa.
The changing social conditions of women in a newly liberated Congo helps relate the advance of Aids through sexual contact. The changing domestic roles of women in Kinshasa (Leopoldville) and Brazzaville from the 1930-1970’s severs as a concrete conduit from which to understand the smoldering Aids epidemic that swept the cities of the Congo during these decades. During these decades, ‘free’ unmarried women were in short supply, many achieved an unheard of financial independence by selling sexual advances to regular partners. This would drastically change in the 1970’s when Congolese prostitution assisted the rapid rise of urban population centers throughout the Congo. More mundane prostitution, where women entertained dozens of clients each week only worsened a situation that was already unmanageable.
The social and semi-medical activities throughout both Haiti and the African Congo make it home to HIV. This has been established for over a decade. How our author helps is to reveal in astonishing detail the geographic, micro-biological and social conditions that brought Congolese Aids to the Americas. We can expect the first infusion of Aids to be from contact with primate blood. Most likely through a hunter sustaining a cut while butchering the carcass of a chimpanzee.
Jacques Pepin’s achievement is extremely formidable. He has mastered a most difficult literature along with unpleasant social history of both Haiti and Africa. Running through the archives of post-colonial Haitian and African laboratories is a most formidable feat. This is a major contribution to the scourge of our time.