HEAL London

Health Education and AIDS Liaison - a more intelligent approach

The News

Cheryl Cole's hidden Malaria legacy

cheryl coleWe're glad to see that Cheryl Cole is well on the way to recovery after her nasty bout of Malaria she apparently picked up in Tanzania. From HEAL London's undercover filming a local doctor in Uganda reported that when he was doing his internship, of the 100 children brought to the hospital each day with what was believed to be Malaria, only 40 would survive. So let's be clear: It certainly was no PR over-dramatisation of the truth on this occasion - she really was in danger.

One advantage she was likely to have over many native Africans though that may have assisted her recovery is that as well as access to the most expensive medical care, is that she at least had access to adequate nutrition on a long term basis. Whether she has actually been partaking of that opportunity sufficiently is not entirely known.

However, even when she is fully recovered the Malaria will leave behind a hidden legacy she would be well to pay heed as within there lurks a hidden danger.

As is well-known, all kinds of illnesses result in the body producing antibodies specifically to help deal with that illness and help prevent further bouts of it. It seems from research that antibodies are one arm of the immune system that can be quite effective against Malaria. Research has indicated that people who produce a sustained level of antibodies against Plasmodium (the parasite that causes Malaria) that lasts from one season to the next, will have considerably less parasitemia the following year, and are much less likely to be so severely affected.

All well and good so far, but there is a secret snag: What most people don't know is that not only are HIV tests non-specific, but that Malaria is one of the factors already documented to trigger false positives on HIV tests. Not just having Malaria, but having had Malaria in the past. So therefore, anyone who is lucky enough to produce a sustained antibody level against Plasmodium will also be much more susceptible to false positives on HIV tests.

Given that our doctor filmed in Uganda said that he thought that Malaria was responsible for more like 60% of deaths in children under five, it should be no surprise that many Africans have had Malaria, and may therefore have at least some level of anti-Malaria antibodies. Given that Malaria has been acknowledged to at least sometimes trigger false positives on HIV tests, it really should not surprise anyone that a much higher proportion of people in Africa are diagnosed HIV positive compared to European countries where Malaria is much less common.

But wait a sec - Aren't black people in Africa much more likely to be diagnosed HIV positive than white people in Africa? Yes, by a ratio of approximately 10:1. And here we're talking about a suburb where different racial groups live alongside each other in approximately the same conditions. Doesn't that prove that black people are simply massively more promiscuous than white people? No, as well as experts such as Dr Charles Geshekter condemning the racist accusations that black people are more promiscuous, there is another subtle fact, and that is that black people (and by that I mean people of predominantly sub-saharan racial origin) naturally have higher levels of antibodies and a stronger antibody response to antigens than all other racial groups. Much higher in fact.

Former HIV test designer Dr Rodney Richards has stated that black males have antibody levels that are approximately 40% higher than white male counterparts, and black women have antibody levels that are about 15% higher still. These are averages of course, which means that in a normal distribution pattern among a population there will be significant overlaps. But as HIV antibody tests (whether Elisa or Western Blot) simply measure the amount of antibodies that stick to particular proteins, this means that a massively higher proportion of black people will hit the essentially arbitrary antibody level that is classified as HIV positive - even if this is because of a stronger, more effective response against Malaria.

Cheryl, we know you seem to be attracted to black guys, but please don't be fooled into believing that because they're black they're more likely to have a deadly infectious immune-system-destroying virus lurking in them. So at HEAL London we beg of you - whoever you have as a paramour, now that you've had Malaria, please please please don't go and have an HIV test. The result might break your heart more than Ashley Cole ever did.