Wednesday, June 11, 2008

UN overstated Aids risk, says specialist

Another example of unreliable official guidance. A default position of ignoring ALL official guidance on everything would give you a lot more hits than misses -- particularly in the health field. Fortunately, some past examples of official guidance are now a regular laughing stock -- such as "Reefer madness" and "Duck and cover"

The United Nations has systematically exaggerated the scale of the Aids epidemic and the risk of the HIV virus affecting heterosexuals, claims a leading expert on the disease.

The numbers of people worldwide with HIV have been inflated and the UN Aids agency has wasted billions of pounds on education aimed at people who are unlikely to become infected, says Professor James Chin, a former senior Aids official with the World Health Organisation. He also accused UNAids of misleading and scaring the public by promoting 'myths' about the disease, such as that poorer people are most at risk, and of being guided in its approach by 'political correctness' rather than hard evidence.

Chin will detail his claims this week in London in a meeting hosted by the International Policy Network, a free-market think tank, where he will launch a new report, called 'The Myth of a General Aids Pandemic'. Despite his controversial reputation, Chin, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, will also explain his concerns when he meets Department for International Development officials who specialise in HIV and Aids.

'UNAids has systematically exaggerated the size and trend of the pandemic, as well as hyping the potential for HIV epidemics in general populations,' said Chin. 'UNAids's perpetuation of the myth that everyone is at risk of Aids has led to billions wasted on prevention programmes directed at general populations and youth who, outside of sub-Saharan Africa, are at minimal risk of exposure to HIV.'

Paul DeLay, UNAids' director of evidence, monitoring and policy, last night rejected Chin's claims and told The Observer he was 'living in the past'. Chin's criticisms are based on old counting systems that have been improved. However, UNAids has revised down its estimate of the number of people worldwide with HIV from more than 40 million to 33.2 million, he admitted. Chin claims the true figure is 'probably under 30 million but close to 30 million'.

DeLay said UNAids was right to warn people that HIV could 'bridge' into heterosexual populations from high-risk groups such as prostitutes, injecting drug users and bisexual men, and that education focused on those most at risk.

Chin's claims are part of a growing backlash at the Aids strategies employed by international aid agencies. Writing in the British Medical Journal last month, Dr Roger England, of the Health Systems Workshop in Grenada, said HIV should be downgraded in the fight to improve global healthcare for poorer people. It caused 3.7 per cent of mortality but received 25 per cent of international healthcare aid, he said. He urged switching œ5bn a year of Aids funding to tackle other diseases and said Aids was not a unique global threat.

Official figures from the Health Protection Agency show that Aids had killed 17,932 people in the UK by the end of 2007, of whom 15,409 were men. The annual death rate has fallen from a high of 1,726 in 1995 to 445 last year, of whom 311 were men and 134 women. Similarly, the number of people being diagnosed with Aids has dropped from a peak of 1,853 in 1994 to 503 last year. However, growing numbers of people are being diagnosed as carrying the HIV virus.


No link proved between video games and violence

Another finding exonerating games. This study previously mentioned more briefly on May 11

TRUE or false: violent video games cause children to become more aggressive? Sorry, that was a trick question. Despite much bandying of statistics and loud talking by critics on both sides of the argument, the real answer is that there is no real answer - at least not one that's been proved scientifically. So say Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner in their new book, Grand Theft Childhood.

Most information about the effects of violent video games is wrong, write the husband and wife team, who direct the Centre for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The pair conducted a $1.5 million study funded by the US Department of Justice that looked at the effects of violent video games on 1200 middle school-age children and found that the results of available research can't be boiled down to a simple answer. For most children and most parents, they write, the bottom-line results of their research can be summed up in a single word: relax.

Experts say that the causes of violent behaviour cannot be explained simply. There is no one thing that will cause a child to become violent, says Kathryn Seifert, a forensic psychologist and expert in assessing and treating children at risk of becoming violent. "It's a great, great study," she says of the Kutner and Olson research. "I think what they did is wonderful." Seifert says she would like to see an additional study incorporating children who have been suspended from school or who are in detention centres or a study conducted on street kids, who are more likely to become violent than children who are still in school.

Kutner and Olson became interested in the subject after watching their son, now 18, play video games. They are not apologists for the video-game industry. While they cite a 2001 FBI study that showed no link between violent video games and school shootings, their own research did show links between 12 to 14-year-olds who almost exclusively played M-rated (for mature) games and a much more common schoolyard problem: bullying. This was among both boys and girls who played more than 15 hours a week, which, Kutner and Olson note, is not the norm. Middle-schoolers in this category also were more likely to get into fights, destroy property and argue with their teachers.

However, Kutner and Olson are careful to point out that their study does not prove causality: It may be that more aggressive children are drawn to more violent games, and not that the games themselves are to blame. Researchers just don't know yet.

But for parents who are contemplating throwing out their son's Wii, the research showed that boys who don't play video games at all were the most likely to engage in bullying and other antisocial behaviours. That may be because video games are such an important part of socialising for that age, Kutner and Olson say, that these boys are, by definition, abnormal. Here again, Kutner says, there's no proof of causality. "(We're not saying) 'Oh just have a video game, and he'll be fine'. No, it doesn't work that way."

Parents need to be involved with their children's games and actually playing the games themselves is not such a bad idea. That way, the child may be more receptive to any of the parents' concerns about the games they are playing. Parents, however, should be aware that not all video games are equal, and that ratings do not tell the whole story.

Manhunt and Postal are two games that no child should ever go near, says Olson. And she views Def Jam Vendetta, a teen-rated game, with a dim eye, because of its portrayal of women.

Finally, Kutner says: "We advise parents not to have (game) consoles in a child's bedroom. "You should be able to see what they're doing; it should be in a public place. Plus, they'll be able to sleep at night. Nor should children have televisions in their room," they add.


No comments: