Accuracy in Media

Ominous headlines recently appeared in newspapers across the country.  The Washington Post said that, “Record Numbers Infected With HIV. U.N. Cites Rapid Rise In Asia and E. Europe.”  The first paragraph said, “The global AIDS epidemic spread at an alarming pace last year with a record 4.8 million new infections, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday, which expressed concern that the virus is spreading quickly in Eastern Europe and Asia.”  But are these figures accurate?

You had to read until the 6th paragraph of the story to find that a figure of 38 million with HIV worldwide is an “estimate,” and that some previous estimates had been “misleading.”  The Post reported that, “new figures had been revised downward based on ‘improved methodologies.'”  But what does that mean?

Dr. Richard Darling of the FAIR Foundation says figures on AIDS cannot be believed and that the disease “is not destroying the world.”  He says that the infection rate is less than one percent in every country except sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.  The Post claimed that sub-Saharan Africa, “where about 25 million people have HIV, remains the region hardest hit by the epidemic.”  But Darling says that this figure is not based on blood testing those patients to see if they actually have the AIDS virus.

He explains that they use a definition of AIDS in Africa that is different than it is here.  In Africa, he says, you don’t even have to have HIV to be diagnosed with AIDS.  It requires 3 of 4 major symptoms and one minor symptom.  The major symptoms are weight loss greater than 10 percent, diarrhea for more than 30 days, fever for more than 30 days, or weakness.  If you have three of those and a minor symptom, such as persistent cough, herpes, itching, or swollen lymph glands, you have AIDS.  Darling thinks the diseases and conditions that are really killing Africans?TB, malaria, dysentery, and poor sanitation?”are being neglected because of this obsession with AIDS.”  The obsession has led to questionable figures.  This can be seen in the fact that the Post claimed that 25 million had HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, when the U.N. in 2002 had put the figure at 29.2 million.  In just 2 years, over 4 million people suddenly lost their HIV infection!

The misleading estimates deserve further scrutiny.  John Donnelly of the Boston Globe did so, writing a June 20 story that said, “Estimates of the number of people with the AIDS virus have been dramatically overstated in many countries because of errors in statistical models and a possible undetected decline in the pandemic, according to new data and specialists on the disease.  In many nations, analysts are cutting the estimates of HIV prevalence by half or more.”

Donnelly added that the tools used today to estimate the AIDS infection rate “are much more refined but still based on a long list of assumptions.”  In a stunning revelation, he said, “Several AIDS specialists said they think the current estimate of 40 million people living with the AIDS virus worldwide is inflated by 25 percent to 50 percent.”  These assumptions should be explained to news consumers before they are misled with phony figures.

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