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Colonialism and the emergence of HIV/AIDS

This conversation was led by Dr. Jacques Pépin, Emeritus Professor at the Université de Sherbrooke. It is now 42 years since the discovery of AIDS. Its origins have long puzzled doctors and scientists. Inspired by his own experience of working as a physician in a bush hospital of Zaire, Jacques Pépin looks back at the early 20th century events that triggered the emergence of HIV/AIDS and its development into the most destructive epidemic of the past century. Colonialism played a major part in these events, starting with World War I during which the mythical Patient Zero probably got infected in SE Kamerun. Urbanization, prostitution and large-scale medical interventions then combined to fuel the spread of the virus from its crucible in Léopoldville to the rest of Africa, the Caribbean and ultimately worldwide. Evolutionary biologists provided major insights into these events, which Pépin complemented by his own epidemiological studies and archival research in France and Belgium. Indeed, it is much easier to find out what happened in very remote areas of Central Africa more than 100 years ago than what took place in China 4 years ago!

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