HIV mutates again: African mountain gorilla simian virus
By Merab Kambamu Kiremire
Nature Medicine's news that the infamous Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has once against mutated in Africa is indeed bad news for our Continent. You will recall that no too long ago, a team of African prominent persons, comprising mainly of the Continent's retired presidents and/or vice presidents gave us hope when they decided to promote an HIV-free generation. Hardly have they gone to work that international researchers are now informing us that the horror disease has once again decided to move a step ahead of all our efforts to counter it. So apparently, early this month, a new strain of the HI Virus was detected in a 62-year-old Cameroon woman who tested HIV positive in a hospital in Paris where she moved some five years ago in 2004.
The scientists from France's University of Rouen led by the famous HIV/AIDS Researcher, Professor Jean-Christophe Plantier who discovered the HIV strain in this rather elderly woman believe that unlike the three previously known HIV strains which are found in chimpanzees, the new simian virus is usually found in mountain gorillas. So they attempted to figure out whether the woman had had some form of interaction with gorillas either through physical contact or through consuming gorilla (bush) meat, to which the old lady declined.
This discovery which apparently has been confirmed by other renowned HIV/AIDS scientists such the French Heal Watch Institute as well as the French National Agency for Research on AIDS and Viral Hepatitis is particularly worrying considering earlier reports that mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains on the Ugandan, Rwandese and Congolese borders have been dying from a mysterious disease. It is aggravated by Sub Saharan African eating habits which are constantly recording increased dependence on all sorts of previously prohibited foods including bush meat commonly referred to as 'game delicacies'. While one does not want to point a finger in any one particular direction, the fact that the scientists who discovered the new (fourth) strain of HIV found it necessary to explore the possibility that the gorilla-carried simian virus could have been transmitted to its human victim through food points to such a possibility.
So is there a possibility that the simian virus could indeed be transmitted to human cells through eating? If so, what does this mean, especially considering the fact that in these modern times of our 'game meat' has become a delicacy and symbol of social status? Apart from Africa's mineral wealth and agricultural wealth, the Continent's game wealth has always attracted all and sundry since its infamous scramble in Berlin at the twilight of the 18th century. During those days, and indeed many decades that followed, the bulk majority of Africans coexisted with their wild life without necessarily depending on them for food. Today, the African hospitality industry of 5 star hotels, game lodges and grand restaurants boost nothing but exotic game dishes of all sorts from crocodiles, to ostrich and buffalo.
And yet, it is mainly Sub Saharan Africa that equally constantly displays new flues and viruses that disseminate our people left right and centre. What do we make of this situation especially that our existing research institutions are by far not so advanced as to detect these new infections and diseases fast enough to save our people? How long, for instance, would it have taken us to discover that we have a new HIV strain in our midst if the Cameroon woman had not been in France? How many thousands of Africans will have died from the Gorilla simian virus before we know its exact extent, magnitude and impact? Professor Plantier and his team have already informed us that the current widespread of this fourth HIV strain is yet to be determined.
And what happens when an HIV/AIDS patient contract the new strain?