Neoliberal crisis-propaganda; the mass media lies of self-infliction with HIV in Greece
WHO Fail: Claim that 50% of new Greek HIV infections self-inflicted for benefits totally false – UPDATE: WHO΄s response
“HIV rates and heroin use have risen significantly, with about half of new HIV infections being self-inflicted to enable people to receive benefits of €700 per month and faster admission on to drugsubstitution programmes.” – Review of social determinants and the health divide in the WHO European Region: final report – Page 112
Perhaps the most shocking fact about this statistic is that it simply isn’t true. As pointed out by the website mediamatters.org, the study cited in the WHO as the source for the figure actually makes no such claim.
Specifically the figure in the WHO report supposedly comes from a 2011 study published in the Lancet. While this paper does note a significant increase in HIV infection rates in recent years, it attributes this largely to increases in prostitution rates and rates of unsafe sex among high-risk groups. Cases of individuals ‘self infecting’ are only limited to a ‘few individuals’:
“The latest data suggest that new infections will rise by 52% in 2011 compared with 2010 (922 new cases versus 605), with half of the currently observed increases attributable to infections among intravenous drug users. …Many new HIV infections are also linked to an increase in prostitution (and associated unsafe sex).22 An authoritative report described accounts of deliberate self-infection by a few individuals to obtain access to benefits of €700 per month and faster admission onto drug substitution programmes.” Health effects of financial crisis: omens of a Greek tragedy
How the WHO arrived at the “half of new HIV infections being self-inflicted” is anyone’s guess and the organisation is likely to come under serious criticism for publishing such a misleading claim as fact. The PressProject International has contacted the WHO regarding the false claim an is awaiting a response.
While some thought to look in to the facts behind the statistic before reporting, most did not, including the authoritative New Scientist who among others reported the WHO report as given.
As a result the erroneous fact is being repeated across the internet at breakneck speed, adding to the narrative that Greece is full of benefit cheats who will stop at nothing to scam the system.
This narrative is often used to support the conclusion that countries such as Greece must cut back on social funding in order to become economically viable, which is ironic as the WHO report actually comes to the opposite conclusion about welfare states:
Given that Greece is currently suffering extraordinarily high rates of unemployment while at the same time drastically cutting back on social security spending, one might think that it would be this line from the WHO report that warranted people’s attention, not an outright falsehood which once repeated often enough will be simply taken as fact.
After all if the WHO and the New Scientist both said it then surely it must be true. Right?
The World Health Organisation has responded to a written question from The Press Project International regarding the error. They write:
“WHO wishes to point out that the statement in the report “Review of social determinants and the health divide in the WHO Europe Region” is the consequence of an error in the editing phase of the document. The original source for the statement is a correspondence published in the Lancet by Alexander Kentikelenis and colleagues in September 2011 (link)… WHO recognizes that there is no evidence suggesting that “deliberate self-infection with HIV” goes beyond few, anecdotal cases.” (emphasis added)
That may be clear enough, but it remains to be seen how many of the news outlets that printed headlines based on the erroneous statistic today, print retractions tomorrow.