In the late 1980’s the independent scholar Louis Pascal argued that AIDS may have arisen from inadvertently contaminated polio vaccines used in Africa in the late 1950s.
A few months later, journalist Tom Curtis published an independent account of the same theory in the magazine Rolling Stone, and in subsequent years a growing number of scholars published texts about the theory, while the leading scientific journals mainly kept quiet or refused to publish their results.
In the late 1990s, attention to the oral polio vaccination (OPV) hypothesis increased dramatically with publication of Edward Hooper's book The River. Leading evolutionary biologist William D. Hamilton encouraged the Royal Society of London to hold a meeting to discuss the theory, and at the meeting, much new scientific work relevant to the origin of AIDS was presented.
According to the OPV-theory, the main group of the viruses responsible for the majority of global AIDS cases – named HIV-1 group M - emerged as a result of the vaccination of about one million people, who were largely living in Belgian Congo from 1957-1960, with an oral vaccine against polio virus that had allegedly been cultured in chimpanzee kidneys.
This is claimed to enable the transfer to humans of chimpanzee simian immunodeficiency virus (SIVcpz), the closest relative of HIV-1.
In 1957, the Oral Polio Vaccine was still in its experimental phase and none of the Western countries allowed test vaccinations in their own countries.
The United Nations then suggested testing the vaccine in the undeveloped countries and a group of researchers went off to Western Africa, bringing with them a small amount of vaccine, which was amplified in whichever primate cells were locally available.
By the second half of the 1950s, virologists in South Africa were using African green monkey cells to amplify the vaccines, while their colleagues in French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa were apparently using cells from baboons. In the town of Stanleyville in Congo, Hooper claims, they used chimpanzees.
Today, it is considered a fact that HIV comes from chimpanzee SIV, called SIVcpz. The big question is: How was it transferred to humans?
Some scientists state that it happened by means of chimp bites or other contact involving blood, but how come that HIV has not transferred earlier, since humans have killed and eaten chimpanzees for thousands of years?
According to the OPV-theory, the polio vaccine was contaminated with SIV when cultivated in the chimpanzee kidneys. Each OPV contained a bit of the poliovirus, but due to the method of cultivation, it also contained whichever ape virus or monkey virus present in the cell substrate.
Hooper points to the fact that in Poland, where another type of monkey was used, which was not carrying the SIV-virus, no cases of HIV were detected.
The scientists carrying out the OPV project in Stanleyville in the late 50’s deny that local chimpanzees were ever used, but Hooper has strong evidence that this is not true. Coincidence or not, the epidemic broke out exactly in the African town, where the oral polio vaccine, called CHAT, was given.
As the renowned biologist William Hamilton wrote in a letter to a colleague of the Royal Society, in October 1999: “the AIDS disaster, if the OPV theory is right, (...) arose out of well-meaning (though also, it must be said, egotistical and profit-seeking) medical motives. But, the potential compounding of this, through failure to find the truth, to publicise and to study what happened, is that medical science continues virtually unwarned towards other equal - or conceivably greater - disasters.”
In other words: the scientific world must act as if the OPV-theory were true in order to prevent similar or greater disasters to happen in the future. UNAIDS estimates that there are currently 36,1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, of which 34,7 million are adults and 1,4 million are children under the age of 15. Since the epidemic began, an estimated 21,8 million people have died of AIDS – 17,5 million adults and 4,3 million children under 15.
For information about the ongoing debate, please visit the link below called "Polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS, some key writings", where new articles on the subject rutinely are collected.
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Links and references:
On the trail of HIV – in Danish:
The reference to W.D. Hamilton is from: Hamilton W.D. (October 10, 1999). RS meeting? Letter to Professor Patrick Bateson. WDH Archive at British Library, London. Can be found at :
Latest developments (april 2003), as presented in London Review of Books:
A feature article on “Early Hepatitis B Vaccines and the “Man-Made” Origin of HIV/AIDS”:
Polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS, some key writings:
The review by Helen Epstein in New York Times:
AIDS Treatment News:
And this is what aidsmap has to say about it:
A BBC-story with pictures of some of the involved persons: