Byron Bay’s “Splendour in the Grass” music festival featured a “science tent” for the first time this year, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to present in it! In exchange for doing two presentations in the science tent over the course of the three day festival, the lucky scientists who were invited to present received free VIP festival tickets, so we could mingle with our 30,000 new BFFs! Having never been to Splendour before, and loving a good shin dig, for me it was a no brainer to accept this offer. The generous folks at UNSW Science kicked in some extra cash to help cover my flights and accommodation when they found out that I was the only person from UNSW who was invited to present (thanks UNSW Science, you rule! side note: UNSW is a great university kids).
The presentation I planned to do was about the work my PhD project has been based on, and I was going to have everyone in the audience play 'the telephone game' to explain how viruses and bacteria can change and evolve as they are transmitted from one person to another. I put together a slide show and collected hilarious tweets from all over the internet that I could use as the messages when we played the game. I packed my gum boots (a festival staple, known to others as wellingtons or rain boots), my party hat, and my bubble gun, and jumped on a flight to Byron Bay, ready to find out how well science and music festivals really go together.
I arrived the night before Splendour officially started, and was shown to my pre-pitched tent, which I discovered was full of water due to heavy rain a day earlier. Not wanting to get wet so early in the piece, I ventured out in to the festival ground to find some dinner and get inebriated enough that I wouldn’t mind sleeping in a wet tent. I found that things were already heaving, despite the fact proceedings hadn’t really kicked off yet, and I quickly discovered a tiki themed karaoke bar, tucked away behind the Happy Kanye. After downing a few ‘Shaka’ cocktails and belting out two of my personal favourite karaoke tunes (‘All that she wants’ by Ace of Base and ‘Pony’ by Ginuwine) I struck up a friendship with the karaoke hosts, Svetlana and Ivanka, to whom I promised that I would be back again (and again) to do some more karaoke during the festival. Rather a lot earlier than most other punters that night, by midnight I decided I was drunk enough to fall asleep in my wet tent, so I stumbled back to get some shut eye.
The next morning, I awoke after a deep and long slumber- it was already midday! How I slept in a cold puddle till midday is still a mystery, but it wasn’t worth dwelling on, as I had a festival to slay. I bounced out of my sleeping bag and headed straight for the Glitoris tent. I had a date with Dylan the glitter fairy. Dylan glittered me good, so good in fact that a photo I posted to my Instagram of the two of us was later picked up by news.com.au as their number 18 ‘wackiest look at Splendour’. I decided my next stop for the day would be to check out the back stage area at the science tent and try to charge my phone. As soon as I arrived at the science tent, I was greeted by a large sign out the front that had the timetable for performances during the festival. I froze when I read my name listed at 11.30am on Friday, as it was currently 1pm on Friday. And I hadn’t done a presentation yet… woops.
There was chaos backstage as the organisers were scrambling to set up props, clear the stage between acts and just generally keep the show running. I quickly realised my earlier no show was probably a welcome break for them, and shamelessly decided I should just own being the ‘science diva’ from now own (this isn’t the first time I’ve not turned up somewhere important I was supposed to be, so I really deserve this name!). Luckily, the Future Crunch team behind the science tent had a way I could make it up to them, and I was mic’d up and sent roaming around the festival with a camera man to administer their “half glass” experiment survey. This consisted of six questions designed to gauge people’s optimism about the future of the world and correlate it with either faith or distrust in science. I had a lot of fun administering the survey and was really surprised by the results (coming soon!). In between science-ing I did some more karaoke and checked out some bands (The XX KILLED it!).
Day two of Science in the Grass saw a much anticipated event- Doctor Karl presenting in the Forum tent. But first- he had to get glittered. Doctor Karl in all his glittery glory packed out the Forum tent and it was a whirlwind of science, but really nothing could compare to what was going to happen later that night. The topic of karaoke had been bought up a few times throughout the day, probably in response to my increasingly husky voice, and it was discovered that my new BFF Doctor Karl was dying to hit the stage himself, and he knew exactly what song he wanted to sing! With only a short amount of time till he was due to be picked up from the festival, we headed to the karaoke tent. Luckily my good friends, Svetlana and Ivanka were on the mic again that night, and when I told them my ‘friend Karl’ wants to sing Doctor Doctor, by Robert Palmer, they obligingly added him to the list. But time was of the essence, so I had to name drop, “Svetlana, do you think we can bump up my friend to next in the list? It’s Doctor Karl, and he is getting picked up in ten minutes.” The universal appeal and admiration of Doctor Karl was immediately evident when Svetlana’s face lit up, and she stammered out “THE Doctor Karl? Of course, he’s up next!” Doctor Karl then proceeded to belt out one of the most enthusiastic and awe inspiring karaoke performances I’ve ever witnessed (and I’ve seen a few). Mumblings in the crowd began to spread “is that Doctor Karl? No, don’t be silly” and by the time the first chorus hit, everyone in the tiki bar was screaming “Doctor doctor, give me the news, I’ve gotta bad case of loving youuuu” and Doctor Karl’s Peter Garret-esque dance moves were so powerful, the whole tiki bar was shaking. If you don’t believe me, check out the video I filmed (which has since gone a little viral on Twitter and in the Australian music media [1, 2])! We saw Queens of the Stone Age later that night, and I’m still not sure if I was more impressed by Josh Homme or Doctor Karl….
The third and final day of the festival had me hitting the stage in the Science tent at 10am to kick the final string of talks off. I have a feeling if my reputation as the ‘science diva’ was better known, I wouldn’t have been scheduled for 10am on the last day, but never the less, I was determined not to miss my final opportunity to talk about my research. Unfortunately, due to copious amounts of karaoke and screaming, my voice was almost totally gone, and after sleeping in a puddle for 3 days, I was generally feeling pretty worse for wear. But I decided to put on my floral playsuit, a sparkly hat, some glitter, and soldier on. Despite a small audience, we had a lot of fun playing the telephone game, with my favourite moment being the butchering of a Tweet from Donald Trump that ended up as “You idiots! My IQ is 100! You’re all idiots!” And that, my friends, is exactly what happens to viruses as they spread through a population of people.
Later that night, someone who was in the audience during my presentation recognised me while I was watching Sigur Ross, and they told me how much they enjoyed my presentation, and how much they learned. So at least one person other than my mum (she watched online on the live Facebook stream) loved the presentation!
Earlier that day, Doctor Karl and I were snapped by a photographer while walking through the festival (unbeknownst to us), and the photo later surfaced in the Daily Mail with the bizarre caption “Colourful printed shirts and t-shirts were the go-to attire for some of the festival-goers.” Clearly they had no idea that Doctor Karl and I both dress like that all the time.
All in all, I had a fantastic experience at Splendour and was genuinely inspired by people's enthusiasm for science and knowledge. I've always believed that if we make science and knowledge accessible to people, they will consume it! I'm now more confident than ever that this is true, and know that the days of science and knowledge being hidden away in libraries and dark lecture theatres is over. It's time for science for the masses!
Beginning to teach at uni was pretty intimidating when I first started, even though it was only first year subjects and I clearly knew more about the subject than any of the students. But when I was an undergrad, I really looked up to the tutors, demonstrators and lecturers, and I thought "they really know stuff!"
I'm going to be completely honest here though; I've learned more while teaching these subjects than I actually did when I took them as part of my undergraduate degree! That's not a reflection on my teachers or the university I went to, it's more a reflection on the difference in maturity level between 20 year old me, and 28 year old me. But aside from the actual content and subject area knowledge that I've gained from teaching at uni, I've learnt a few really valuable lessons that I'll take with me in to all elements of my career, and I think some of them are worth sharing. So I've written a list (because who doesn't love lists!?):
1. You can't please everyone. You aren't a jar of Nutella. I got some anonymous feedback from students I was teaching a couple of weeks ago, and of the 14 comments, 13 of them were really positive. I'll give you some examples (actual comments from students):
"Great demonstrator, had some negative experience last year in chemistry labs but she's made my time in biochem so much more enjoyable and calm because I feel like I can just approach her without fear of judgement etc."
"Extremely helpful, organised and always willing to lend a hand"
Then there was this comment:
"She's kinda scary and anxie at times lol"
I was a bit flawed when I read that last one. Am I really scary? I went back through all the feedback I've received over the last two years to try and find some hints. Nothing jumped out at me, and I was confused and a bit hurt! I spoke to the subject coordinator about it to try and find out what I was doing wrong and her response was pretty blunt; "that person probably doesn't like you or was having a bad day, you can't please everyone!" That comment really struck me- I realised the subject coordinator is absolutely right and this is a really important lesson to learn, especially if you are trying really hard and pouring your heart and soul in to something. You (or I) will never be perfect, and we won't please everyone! So, if you get negative feedback or comments, sometimes you just have to take it on the chin!
2. "Young adults" aren't proper adults yet. They are "kidults". What is a kidult? They aren't kids, and they aren't adults. They are a weird hybrid in-between the two. From my observations, this period lasts roughly from 17-25 years of age.
It is characterised by a desire to not be told what to do and a simultaneous reluctance to ask for help. There is also often a total lack of knowledge about how to figure things out or where to begin. As a result, kidults frequently have no idea what they are doing, and refuse to ask for help. This can make it quite challenging to teach them very complex or difficult topics like molecular biology or biochemistry, or actually to teach them anything for that matter!
Many kidults are able to fumble their way through fine, but some need extra assistance. I have discovered that one of the most effective ways to help kidults who struggle is to give them enough freedom and respect to feel like they are independent, while providing a safety net to catch them and make sure they don't completely screw up.
3. One way of explaining something might make total sense to one person, and be completely confusing to another person. The most difficult thing about teaching is being able to explain things in MANY different ways! Whoever said 'if you can't do, teach' hasn't tried to teach biochemistry to 19 year-olds. I have gained a new level of respect for all the people who have taught me throughout my life! Baby sitting 20 kidults for 4 hours in a laboratory, putting out (actual) fires, mopping up spilled chemicals, fixing butchered calculations and doing damage control on botched experiments is physically exhausting, and I often have a sore throat at the end of the day from talking so much!
But the hardest part of all is explaining things in many different ways. This is like trying to think in a different language sometimes! Teaching biochemical calculations is a combination of algebra and chemistry, and there are multiple ways to do these types of calculations. Different people will favour different methods. When I'm explaining calculations and going through my method, there will inevitably be 2 or 3 students who tried to solve the equation in a different way, so I then need to try and solve for their method too.
And finally, the most important lesson of all...
4. People's ability to learn and do well at chemistry/maths/biology is dependent on the amount of effort they put in, not an inherent ability or natural intelligence. Interestingly, I've recently heard many other people in various fields saying they believe 'genius' should be redefined, not as talent, but a blend of passion and persistence, or “grit,” and I couldn't agree more! The realisation that your ability isn't predetermined and that you can become 'smarter' (if that is the right way to think about it?) is really empowering for some people. For me, having thought I was terrible at science and hating it for about 19 years of my life, this was a lesson I took a long time to learn. But when I eventually did learn it, I appreciated it all the more. So I strive to help my students realise this, and I really value and appreciate students who are working hard to try and improve. I will always give extra time to a student who wants to ask questions or needs another explanation after the class. If they are willing to stay behind, I am happy to help them!
If you are a teacher and any of this resonated with you, I'd love to hear what your thoughts are! Send me a message or comment below...
In early 2016 I found out about the World Health Organisation (WHO) Internship program and decided to apply on a whim, thinking it was unlikely I would be selected, but filling in the application form was a useful source of procrastination at the time. The World Health Organisation had an exotic appeal, with images of field workers surveying people in rice paddies and emergency Ebola laboratories in West Africa coming to mind. The idea of doing international public health related work in a far off place was a lovely day dream to escape my thesis induced nightmares. However, the dream soon became reality when a few months later, I found out my application had been successful.
My CV was plucked from the thousands of hopefuls and I was offered a position at the WHO Office for the Western Pacific Region (WPRO) in Manila, the Philippines, starting immediately. Suddenly the idealised day dream was becoming a tricky reality. It wasn't great timing for me, as I was in the middle of a major research project and I had numerous other activities to complete relating to my PhD thesis. When I told my PhD supervisors that I had received this offer, their reactions ran the full gamut from amazement to confusion. I distinctly remember one of them saying "well yes you can take the time off... but why do you want to go there?" Fortunately I was able to negotiate with all the parties involved to let me go for 2 months over the Australian summer, which meant I would forfeit our customary long Christmas break, but this way it would cause minimal disruptions. Even more fortunately, earlier in the year I was granted a scholarship from Layne Beachley's Aim For The Stars Foundation, which allowed me to be able to pay for my flights and some other expenses while in Manila, as of course, the WHO doesn't pay interns.
I landed in Manila at the beginning of December and was placed in the Division of Communicable Diseases (DCD) with the Hepatitis, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (HSI) Unit. On my first day in the office, a meeting was held to plan their impending Year End Party (YEP) performance. I soon found out it's a long standing tradition at WPRO that all divisions perform a pantomime style routine in a competition held at the annual YEP, and the theme for 2016 was "throwback to the 90's". Apparently they were having trouble recruiting Spice Girls, and my first act of service to WPRO would be to play Ginger Spice in DCD's YEP performance. Needless to say, I was happy to oblige. Sadly, we didn't win the YEP competition, but it is widely agreed that DCD was robbed this year (as it also was the year before apparently).
From then on, the actual work began. I quickly discovered that the WHO relies heavily on interns and volunteers to complete much of it's work, in large part due to a very restricted budget, but also because of a culture of donor countries supplying many personnel in-kind, through secondments and various other strategies. Interns do a lot of grunt work and are essentially the minions of WPRO. At times, one gets the distinct feeling of being 'another brick in the wall' as an intern at the WHO. My duties were split between working on HIV surveillance data and providing technical support for viral hepatitis related activities. One experience during my internship really highlighted, for me, the way viral hepatitis is often thought of both domestically in Australia and Globally. This experience was when I had lunch with the Regional Director of WPRO at the beginning of my internship. Dr Shin Young-soo, the outgoing WPRO Regional Director, regularly has lunch with visiting interns and volunteers in his (palatial) office. On this particular day, a group of 8 volunteers and interns were joining him for the obligatory lunch date, including myself. At the beginning of lunch, Dr Shin went around the group of interns one by one (with our CVs in front of him) and asked us about the projects we were working on at WPRO, our academic backgrounds and various other quips relating to either our nationality or professional backgrounds. I found this act mildly amusing and wondered what he would have to say when he inevitably came around the table to me.
When my turn arrived, I was stunned to hear him open with "Ah, Sofia, the Australian. Well viral hepatitis is almost over now in our region. We have all the amazing new drugs that cure it. What will you work on next?" I choked on my lunch for a second as my brain scrambled to process what I had heard. I thought, "surely this man knows that WPRO has the largest number of people infected with hepatitis B and C of all WHO regions, and most of these countries don't have universal health coverage, coupled with huge financial inequality and poverty? Surely he can't be serious." He was. I quickly discovered that like many other very senior public health bureaucrats, prevalence of the disease in question is usually the only thing they really pay attention to. Which is quite misleading, especially when considering countries like China.
The prevalence of hepatitis B in China is estimated to be about 5.5%, which puts it below many countries in Africa, with prevalence's above 8% in most countries on that continent. However, the total number of people in the whole of Africa estimated to be infected with hepatitis B is 75,641,609. The total number of people estimated to be infected with hepatitis B in China alone is 74,601,204 (only 1.04 million less then the WHOLE of Africa combined). I pointed this out to Dr Shin, and asked how China would be able to pay for diagnostic tests and LIFETIME therapy for hepatitis B virus for all these people? I also asked how China will implement and pay for diagnostic testing and treatment for the 9,795,000 estimated people infected with hepatitis C virus there. There is very variable quality and availability of diagnostic testing across China for both hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus, and with most people unaware that they are infected, just finding these people will be an enormous challenge. Treating them will be a whole other problem for future China to deal with. I would like to say that Dr Shin is an isolated example of this thinking, but from my experience so far, he isn't. I encounter this as the prevailing attitude among people not directly involved in viral hepatitis research. Very few people are aware of the fact that viral hepatitis kills more people globally than tuberculosis, HIV and malaria, yet this has been the case for several years. It seems viral hepatitis is the global problem everyone wants to ignore. It's just too big. Too expensive. Too difficult. It takes years for people to die from liver cancer or liver failure, unlike HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, so no one worries now.
Thankfully, there are extremely committed individuals at WPRO, and around the world, who are prepared for the hard tasks ahead and are working tirelessly to try and eliminate viral hepatitis. But unfortunately, many, many more people will die from viral hepatitis before this happens. I don't advocate for diverting resources away from treating diseases like HIV, tuberculosis or malaria. This is a case for additional spending and additional resources. HIV transmission is far from over (case in point: the Philippines, with a 624% increase in the number of new HIV infections between 2005 and 2015!) and multiple drug resistant tuberculosis continuing to spread more and more. We need to encourage both public and private spending on these diseases, or else the chances of achieving elimination will be very low. There are still significant hurdles to clear on the journey to elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030, but hopefully they will get fewer and smaller along the way, thanks in part to the small but important contributions made by interns and volunteers like myself.
Many people are aware that Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) originated in monkeys, however there is much more to this fascinating and deadly story of transmission. This was a situation where the ‘perfect storm’ was created, and it allowed this virus, which is almost harmless to monkeys, to become one of the deadliest viruses in human history. It’s now widely agreed by scientists that the origin of the HIV epidemic was a place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, called Kinshasa (Worobey, 2008), which at the time was the capital of Belgian Congo, in Central Western Africa. However this story really began further up the Sangha River system in Cameroon, where sometime between 1900 and 1920, a monkey virus, called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), was first transmitted from a monkey to a human, from what is probably the result of hunting and eating Pan troglodytes troglodytes chimpanzees (Gao, 1999, pictured above).
SIV had probably been infecting these chimps for a long time, in the order of hundreds of years (Sharp, 2011), before it jumped to humans. But it’s estimated only 6% of the chimps were infected with it, and it doesn’t affect their health significantly. Humans didn’t start hunting these chimps to eat their meat until guns were easily accessible (Peeters, 2002), which was only at the beginning of the 20th century for people in Cameroon. These two facts explain why SIV didn’t jump from chimps to humans until before the 1910’s or 1920’s. There is strong evidence to suggest that SIV was only transmitted from chimp to human on four single occasions, which is a scary prospect when we think of all the damage those four single events caused! After SIV made the leap from chimp to human, it adapted itself to taking over its human host's immune system and also became able to be transmitted from human to human. One of these adapted SIVs became what we now call HIV-1, group M, and it’s the virus that spread around the world, eventually infecting 70 million people and killing 35 million people so far (WHO). Between 1920 and 1940, HIV crept up the Sangha River system with the ferries that moved workers harvesting rubber from Cameroon to Belgian Congo, eventually making it to Kinshasa.
HIV transmission started to take off during the 1940’s and 1950’s, when the Belgian Congo and neighbouring French Middle Congo underwent extensive urbanisation and various development programs initiated by the colonial administrations, such as extensive construction of railways across the countries (Faria et al, 2014). The populations of both Kinshasa and neighbouring Brazzaville underwent rapid expansion at this time, with people from the surrounding areas flocking to the capitals to work on the urbanisation projects. With more human hosts to infect in the form of population growth, and the ease of mobility afforded by the construction of railways and river ferries, HIV began to spread far and wide across the Belgian Congo (Faria et al, 2014). During this period, it’s likely that sexual transmission between humans accounted for some of the spread of HIV in Kinshasa and the Congo, however it was most probably boosted by things like the advent of machine-made glass syringes that happened at this time, which allowed affordable mass administration of medicines (Drucker, 2001). These syringes were used repeatedly and weren’t sterilized properly, if at all. The French and Belgian colonial administrations both tackled many diseases in their colonies by administering medicines in these syringes, which although was a nice gesture, probably significantly expedited the spread of HIV at that time.
In 1960 both French Middle Congo and Belgian Congo gained full independence, becoming the Republic of the Congo (RC) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) respectively. Very shortly after the DRC and RC gained independence, the United Nations (UN) created the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC). Due to a scarcity of university educated native Congalese people to take up professional positions in ONUC, the UN recruited French speaking professionals from all over the world, and in particular Haitians heeded this call. There was a large movement globally of black African expatriates and activists returning to Africa during this period of decolonization. This movement, coupled with French being the main language spoken in Haiti, and many Haitians being well educated, vastly explains the influx of Haitians to the DRC that began in 1958 (Jackson, 2014). Throughout the 1960’s, many Haitians who had been working for ONUC in the DRC returned to Haiti. And they had bought a deadly passenger back with them; HIV (Gilbert, 2007).
There are still a few conflicting theories as to how HIV spread from Haiti to the rest of the world and when this spread occurred. There was a rather brutal theory that was perpetuated in the media for a long time that a man called Gaétan Dugas (pictured), who was an international flight attendant and allegedly ‘a promiscuous gay man’, was the Patient Zero who introduced HIV to the United States, however this has been totally ruled out since then by testing a blood sample collected from him before he passed away. Haitian migrants to Miami in the 1960’s were also initially blamed for the spread of HIV to the US (CDC, 1982), however the study that ruled Dugas out as Patient Zero identified New York City as the earliest location in the United States where HIV landed and was spread. So the Haitian migrants to Miami could have bought HIV with them, but they probably weren’t responsible for the first transmission in the United States. Many more gay men (and other Men Who Have Sex with Men [MSM]) like Gaetan Dugas were blamed and vilified for bringing HIV to the United States from Haiti as well. It had been quite common for MSM in the US to go on holidays to Haiti during the 1960’s and 70’s. In Haiti, many American men had sexual relations with local Haitian men (Farmer, 1999), so it’s likely that multiple men from the US did bring HIV home with them from Haiti in the 1960’s. However sex tourism in Haiti wasn’t just limited to MSM, so it’s possible that heterosexual people also bought HIV home with them from Haiti. In any case, none of these people knew HIV existed, much less that they were at risk of infection and potentially transmitting it to other people. To attempt to pin point and blame particular people for bringing HIV in to the United States is both unfair and pointless, however studying the patterns of how HIV was transmitted on a population level does help to understand how the epidemic spread. Regardless of how HIV got to the United States, it had well and truly arrived and was spreading locally throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, especially among MSM. HIV was also starting to become transmitted among people who inject drugs (Masur, 1981) and people who required blood products such as haemophiliacs (CDC, 1982).
In 1981, the first cases of rare lung infections (what is now recognized as a sign of AIDS) were reported in Los Angeles among previously healthy gay men (CDC, 1981). For most people who become infected with HIV, if they don’t receive treatment, AIDS develops between 10 and 15 years after they first became infected with HIV. This is one of the reasons it is known that the people who first developed AIDS symptoms in 1981 in the US would have probably been infected with HIV in the early 1970’s or late 1960’s. In 1982, the term AIDS was first used to describe the syndrome characterized by these rare infections and rare cancers (CDC, 1982), and cases of AIDS were reported in Europe (Francioli, 1982) and Uganda (Serwadda, 1982). In 1983, they identified HIV as the probable cause of AIDS (Barre-Sinoussi, 1983), and all the major routes of transmission had been identified (in 1983 the CDC listed the routes as mother to child before during or shortly after child birth, sexual contact, blood transfusion/blood products, and sharing of injecting equipment). In 1985, a commercial blood test was first licensed by the FDA in the US which could detect signs of HIV infection (antibodies against the virus) in people’s blood (Roberts, 1994). Blood banks began to screen the US blood supply from this time. By the end of 1985, HIV was truly global, as every region in the world had reported at least one case by that time (Veronika, 2003), and its global conquest still continues today.
In 1985 when the world finally became aware of this virus that had been spreading unnoticed among humans for more than 80 years, people rushed to find the source of the outbreak. Due to the large number of people infected with HIV in Haiti, Haitian people were demonized and blamed for HIV in the US, as were gay men and MSM, sex workers and people who inject drugs. In the overall story of the spread of HIV, not only is this blame and demonization unhelpful, it’s also really unfair. None of these people knew HIV or AIDS even existed, much less that they were infected with it. And little did the French & Belgian colonialists realize, when they took up residence in the Congo, that they were about to set off a chain of events that would lead to one of the deadliest pandemics in human history!
In the big picture, it’s arguable that the single largest factor that contributed to the explosion of HIV globally was the failure of leaders and policy makers to introduce prevention measures when they first found out how HIV was being transmitted (Australia was one of the exceptions to this, and as a result had many fewer HIV infections than in the rest of the world, detailed in the documentary Rampant). In 1983, all the routes of transmission were known, and in 1985 a commercial test was available for HIV detection. However, the majority of prevention measures implemented at that time consisted of simply telling people not to inject drugs or have sex, which we now can see was unrealistic and totally useless. It’s been proposed by several academics, researchers and field workers (notably Elizabeth Pisani in her book Wisdom of Whores) that ideology & bureaucracy were the biggest reasons that the two simplest things that stop HIV from spreading (supplying condoms and clean injecting equipment) were not made widely and easily available straight away when the HIV/AIDs epidemic was first discovered. Pisani posits that had these two things been handed out en masse from 1983 onwards, HIV would have been but a blip on the global health radar. We’ll never know if she was right, and if that was why HIV became the global issue that it still is today. But we do know that we can learn lessons from these events and hopefully not repeat the same mistakes again in the future, when the next deadly virus comes along!
This blog is written by Dr. Sofia Bartlett; scientist, ocean lover, and curious human being. Her bio can be viewed here.
© Sofia Bartlett and Rogue Transmissions, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.