Research on HIV prevention gel put black lives at risk

THE media have been abuzz with news of the miracle HIV prevention gel. Our Cabinet has described it as "ground-breaking news".

In fact, talk is that the government is going to take every possible step to make sure the gel is available to women. The "breakthrough" is sold to the public as empowering to women because women can apply the gel without having to consult their sexual partners.

There are shocking ethical questions the study raises and I'm told that the medical science fraternity and people who are concerned with ethics have not raised their voices.

For starters, the study was conducted in the most depressed areas. Women who participated in the study can be said to be a "vulnerable group". This means issues of consent become very tricky.

Did the women know the full implications of subjecting themselves to the study? Why was the study not conducted in urban areas with white middle- class women?

Just imagine this, the study had to find almost a thousand black vulnerable women who are HIV-negative and then wait for a "statistical significant" number of them to become HIV-positive in order to draw conclusions.

This callousness and disrespect for black lives is shocking.

The method employed by the study was to recruit the participants and divide them into two groups.

One group was given a "blank" gel. In other words, they were not potentially protected, but didn't know. The other group was given the gel with antiretrovirals.

The key issue here is that none of the women knew who was protected and who wasn't. This might mean they then altered their sexual practices and thereby exposed themselves to the HI virus. One doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to know that human behaviour is unpredictable and people will go for easy solutions.

But people can also be duped. When the study was finished it was shown that a shocking 60percent of the women were now HIV-positive. However, the study was declared a great success.

The question is, what happened to the women who became HIV-positive?

It seems that it's either these women were used as lab rats and discarded, and this was on the basis of the assumption that they were going to be HIV-positive anyway. So the 40percent that is said to have been "protected" are saved!

No one asked a simple question - if these women were recruited from high-risk HIV areas, how did they stay negative for as long as they did? Would this not have been a more ethical study than subjecting people to such risks?

Medical science genocide is allowed against the weak historically, but when the weak are blacks then it doesn't really matter.

The idea of a gel that prevents transmission of HIV operates in the same logic of circumcision as HIV prevention methods. These methods are encouraged among blacks.

This is because it is assumed that blacks cannot control themselves, so we make them cut pieces of their flesh and insert gels in their bodies instead of education, prevention, treatment and real empowerment. Blacks are treated as one would treat an animal.

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