Rainforest Medical Bulletin
Vol. 5, no. 1, June 1998
THE REAL CAUSE OF THE AIDS/HIV EPIDEMIC: DESTRUCTION OF
MONKEY/APE HABITATS IN THE AFRICAN RAINFOREST
Prof. Dr. Jaap Goudsmit
Dept of Human Retrovirology, University of Amsterdam, AMC
The current worldwide AIDS epidemic is less than twenty years old, but its history is much older. AIDS is the
unfortunate by-product of a virus's survival need. We must remember that the underlying evolutionary requirement for
survival of any virus is efficient spread. The three known AIDS viruses are all retroviruses of the lentivirus family, all
descended from harmless SIVs (monkey/ape equivalent to HIV). Two of them, HIV-O and HIV-2, remain fairly
confined to their original African ecological niches, most likely because they had little opportunity to move. In contrast,
the virus that became HIV-1 jumped from its original host and found foothold in humans. SIVcpz appears never to have
achieved sufficient circulation in chimpanzees, which in any case became scarce. As HIV, it adapted rapidly and lethally
to humans. In less than a century, the foothold has become a stranglehold.
Looking back, we can see that instability of the environment was a major factor in the rise of today's AIDS epidemic.
Changes caused largely by humans occurred in the monkey and ape populations that originally sustained the SIV
ancestor of HIV-1. Apparently the virus circulated almost exclusively among non-human primates. But as humans
decimated these hosts they offered the virus an abundant alternative host. The virus made use of the opportunity and
depends on us for survival.
Human interference continues and grows with the human population. Our intrusion on more and more monkey and ape
habitats, especially the rainforest communities, has convinced some scientists that monkeys could vanish from the wild by
the end of the twenty-first century. What will happen to their retroviruses? They will not simply vanish too. A few will
survive in zoos with their remaining natural hosts. However, most of the retroviruses will acept the opportunity to jump to
new hosts, most probably the human population. To survive and spread, they will adapt and cause disease. One century
is not much time to prevent these disasters, and already we have great damage to undo. One disaster can never be
undone: HIV-1 is now among us and does its devastating job. Nonetheless, there are steps we can and must take as a
unified global community. While scientists race to know and tame the AIDS virus, people everywhere in the world, rich
and poor, must race toward one important goal: to protect the monkey and ape populations still existant in the wild. We
must consider their survival needs along with our own and create more preserves and sanctuaries.
This is the abstract of a paper presented by Prof. Goudsmit at a Conference on The Value of Plants, Animals and
Microbes to Human Health, New York, april 17 & 18, 1998.
reference: Jaap Goudsmit; Viral Sex: the Nature of AIDS; Oxford University Press, NY, 1997. ISBN 0-19-509728-9
On-line: 9 August 1998
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