Over time, AIDS has comfortably earned itself the term ‘scourge’, in addition to many others that all are all indicative of it being the greatest tragedy that has ever happened to mankind. Thanks to the concerted campaigns by the media, concerned government agencies and civil society groups, there has been a near-sufficient awareness on some of the most pertinent facts about this syndrome. However, the question that not even scientists have been able to settle conclusively, is that regarding the origin of the AIDS-causing virus. Theories after theories have been advanced attempting to demystify the origin of the HIV virus, but none appears to have answers. Let us for a moment ask ourselves, ‘where did AIDS come from’, and see whether there can be answers once and for all.
The first reported cases of HIV infections were in Kinshasa in the present day Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1920s. The epidemic is believed to have been advanced by social changes in the nascent colonial cities such as higher degree of sexual promiscuity, spread of prostitution and the high frequency of genital ulcer diseases. Scientists believed that the known strains of HIV-1 are related to the simian immunodeficiency viruses that are endemic in wild ape populations of the West Central African forests. Scientists also believe that this virus transferred naturally from the apes to human during the early years of the colonial era.
The natural transfer theory, also called the hunter theory or bush meat theory was possibly caused by two factors. First, it is believed that the virus could have transferred from a monkey or ape to humans due to human-wildlife conflict caused by the emergence of urbanization, or by other conflicts as a result of accidental encroachment of man into the territories of these apes. Bushmen, for instance, would have been bitten or cut while hunting or butchering these apes. A significant trend during the pre-colonial times might have escalated the infections. Due to the demand for resources by the colonial powers, most Africans were forced out of their rural homes. Because the colonial powers dominated the towns, the Africans chased out of their rural homes opted for the jungle as their second home. Considering they would not do any kind of agriculture in the jungle, they resorted to hunting as a means of livelihood, and therefore overexposed themselves to bush meat. Blood-to-blood contact with the infected apes would therefore be increased due to the malpractice of butchery.
However, there are two major drawbacks to this theory. First, it is not clear why only four HIV groups i.e. HIV-1 groups M and O and HIV-2 groups A and B considerably spread in human population while the practice of bush meat is known to have been prevalent in Central Africa, not to mention the fact of the resulting SIV human infection being common. The other drawback to this theory is the fact that it does not conclusively explain why all epidemic HIV groups emerged in humans almost simultaneously and only in the 20th century, while it is clear that human exposure to the SIV virus had been in existent for long.
All in all, the theory has been widely accepted, largely due to the fact that it has not been challenged by subsequent scientific findings.