Science

Covid: In South Africa as in Guadeloupe, Disinformation Kills, by Professor Gilles Pialoux

It has been a constant since the beginning of this Covid pandemic, it is advisable to be wary of shortcuts and causal links that are established over a simple conjunction of events. Take South Africa for example, a country where Beta and Omicron variants have emerged. Today, shame is thrown at this country that, nevertheless, collaborates in an exemplary way in the exchange of information about these worrying variants of Covid, as it had done in the fight against AIDS.

In a column published on December 2 in the journal Nature, four South African scientists, including two members of the team behind the discovery of the Beta and Omicron variants, question the international community about the risk it could pose to the evolution of the pandemic to interrupting access to care for people with HIV: “Failure to fight the pandemic at the time of greatest urgency in countries with high rates of late-stage HIV-infected people and insufficient treatment could lead to the emergence of variants of the SARS-CoV -2 coronavirus that are more transmissible or make vaccines less effective. ”Beyond the” travel ban “, the closure of our airports to flights from southern Africa, a population remains as well Thrown into the grass of public opinion and into the face of the world: HIV-positive people living with HIV.

The emergence of variants cannot be reduced to the prevalence of HIV in South Africa

Indeed, with nearly eight million people living with HIV, South Africa is the first hotbed of the world’s HIV epidemic. At least two million of them, a probably underestimated number, are not on HIV treatment and are therefore highly contaminated. The fact that the Omicron variant appeared in this region of the world where the HIV prevalence rate is higher in women giving birth (30%) than the COVID vaccination rate (27%) calls into question the mechanisms of appearance of these variants . A person who is immunosuppressed by HIV, untreated and infected with Sars-cov-2, is, in fact, more likely to secrete mutated variants.

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But the arrival of VOCs, these worrisome variants according to the WHO, cannot be reduced to this conjunction. It is about ignoring the social context, inequalities in access to screening exacerbated by the health crisis, and skepticism of science or even denial ingrained in South African culture. We can only remember how several presidents of the South African state, including Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008), even denied the existence of viral transmission of the AIDS virus to support the idea that its only cause would be poverty and colonial exploitation. These forces of resistance to public health rationality from above persist in South Africa, as do we in the West Indies. They challenge us because they have very deep political significance and should not be approached with condescension.

How to explain that at the other end of the planet, the same causes do not produce the same effects?

In mirror, the analysis of the violent rejection of vaccination against Covid-19 in Guadeloupe cannot be reduced to the traumatic experience of chlordecone. In the same way, to summarize the current dramatic situation that has been maintained in the face of the fourth wave thanks to the curfew imposed for reasons of insecurity, or that of South Africa, to the scum of colonialism, slavery would be to say the least reductionist . How else to explain that at the other end of the planet covid the same causes do not produce the same effects? Reunion and Mayotte saw their complete vaccination coverage reach almost 63% and 53% in early October. And vaccination against Covid-19 has become mandatory after the unanimous adoption by the Congress of New Caledonia of deliberation No. 44 / CP of September 3, 2021, which establishes an obligation to vaccinate against the SARS virus. . -CoV-2 to all adults except medical contraindication.

Resistance to the vaccine in Guadeloupe, where hospital mortality linked to the pandemic has broken records – the equivalent of 60,000 deaths in two months reported on the metropolitan scale – expresses, the sociologist Stéphanie Mulot tells us, “a stance of” nationalism identity “and have their roots in neoliberal ideologies and specific decolonial aspirations.” Other elements still bring South Africa and Guadeloupe closer together: conspiracy theories ranging from the strategy decided by who knows what power to decrease the world population – here from a “negricide” therefore directed – to fear of the vaccine rather than the fear of contracting the virus, the effects of which would be easily controlled by various traditional pharmacopoeias or other recycling drugs knowingly disposed of by Big Pharma.

In metropolitan France, we have seen how much the shift occurred during the first two waves of populist and scientific reassertion towards a certain denialism. If the “tranquility” of the first hour fell on social networks, the hydra survives. Especially on more devious subjects. Such as the idea that the Covid would not circulate in children, or that natural immunity would control the pandemic and that those vaccinated, “the first source of contamination”, would actually represent “three billion cuckolds” deceived by experts and the science, according to André Bercoff’s (at LCI) totem claim, a claim that cannot summarize his misinformation work. Perhaps one day we will be able to analyze the health impact these true debaters and falsely reassuring have had on vaccinating vaccinations and avoiding the past.

Beyond the virus, the lack of access of emerging countries to vaccines, misinformation kills all over the world.

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Professor Gilles PIALOUX is head of the department of infectious diseases at the Tenon Hospital (AP-HP) in Paris (20th century). A member of the PandemIA collective and the Terra Nova health center, he is also the author of “We weren’t ready. Record book in times of coronavirus” (ed. JC Lattès).

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