The Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV)- AIDS theory….that’s an incredibly contentious issue. I don’t pretend to be a biologist or epidemiologist, but I do have to say that I find the theory interesting. Recently, I finished reading The River by Edward Hooper after two years of trying to get through it. College kept getting in the way. Now college is over, and the book likewise, so I have, for you, a short, amateur critique of the book, its theory, and its agents.
The OPV-AIDS theory basically contends that the AIDS pandemic was an accidental, man-made disaster that was brought about by large polio vaccinations that took place in the late 1950s in the Belgian Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. The particular vaccine under suspicion is the CHAT vaccine created by Dr. Hilary Koprowski, a virologist and renowned scientist of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia. Hooper suggests that chimpanzes were used for Monkey Kidney Tissue Cultures (MKTC) in order to create the vaccines. Koprowski and others involved refute this claim and say that African Green Monkeys were used although there is no hard, written evidence for either claim.
Nevertheless, Koprowski did create a chimp colony outside of Stanelyville (currently Kisangani) with the help of his friend, Ghislain Courtois, which housed between 400 and 600 chimps between 1956 and 1960. Koprowski suggests that these chimps were used for testing the polio vaccines and it’s effects and not for creating vaccine. However, with such a large, available pool of viable MKTC, it is hard to believe that a scientist would be able to resist. Especially in the era before we realized the dangers of using chimp MKTC.
The book is readable and its argument easy to follow. The amount of work that Mr. Hooper had in creating this book was astounding. He meticulously followed leads and buttresses a compelling theory. Every origin of AIDS theory that I have heard before this is based on some type of natural transfer. That Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) spread to human over the course of hundreds or thousands of years through bush meat and eventually recombined into AIDS. That a hunter would become infected, spread it to a limited number of people, and then the virus would burn out. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, increased urbanization and relaxation of morals created ideal circumstances for this virus to spread from rural towns into the urban highway of disease. This theory doesn’t make sense to me considering the way AIDS was spread.
AIDS spread in a starburst from the Belgian Congo and Ruzizi Valley for HIV-1. This shape suggests a number of different types of infections evolving around the same period. It is logically unlikely, and scientifically implausible to test for or prove that a certain number of African hunters all contracted (different strains of) HIV at the exact same time, all moved to Stanelyville or another urban center, and began to spread it. That doesn’t make sense. A coordinated, vaccination program throughout the areas with the highest concentration of HIV/AIDS in the early period of the epidemic…well, that just makes more sense.
HIV has two groups: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is derived from chimpanzees and is the predominant group of HIV in the world (and the most virulent). Then, HIV-1 is split into two other groups: Group M and Group O (Group N has been discovered but that’s further away on the evolutionary scale). Group M has the most variance with Types A, B, C, D, E, F, G with all of them being based in areas around Central Africa (except for Type B, which is an anomaly out of Haiti and San Francisco). The great variance of HIV types and the starburst shape emanating out of the regions where the OPV CHAT was fed suggests that this must be more than simply the evolution of a virus. Some event propelled it into the general population. And I find it hard to believe that decolonization and industrialization of Africa are the only causes.
So far, the OPV-AIDS theory cannot be proved or disproved fully. All of these theories are based greatly on circumstantial evidence. However, with the terrible effects of AIDS, it seems necessary to me that man is able to pinpoint the carrier of the first, contemporary HIV-1 virus (so far the candidate are the chimpanzees Paniscus Trogledyte Trogledyte). I believe that this is our best chance with coming up with a viable vaccine for the affliction. It vexes me that scientists who are simply trying to protect their name would either hide or misrepresent evidence. The way that HIV first passed to humans is a necessary link in the puzzle of a vaccine.
Although I didn’t agree with all of the points proposed by Mr. Hooper in his book, I do appreciate stretching the scientific envelop. We live in a society where science is not questioned. The fact that Mr. Hooper had the courage to question it is admirable. I suggest that you read this book for yourself, make your own opinion of it, and go from there. If nothing else, the book is a testament to scientific inquiry that critiques scientific convention. I find that easy to appreciate.