n Southern African Journal of HIV Medicine - AIDS : a Darwinian event? : opinion and debate

Volume 2007, Issue 28
  • ISSN : 1608-9693
  • E-ISSN: 2078-6751



The HIV / AIDS epidemic is the biggest natural event in the history of our species for the last 500 years. Professor Roy Anderson, who has modelled the likely path of the epidemic, estimates that HIV / AIDS is a 130-year event. This, we contend, is an underestimate. HIV / AIDS has put an indelible mark on the most affected societies, and that effect will certainly be felt for generations. In addition, Anderson's model - like all such mathematical exercises - measures what can be measured, leaving other factors as hypothetical zeros. The HIV / AIDS epidemic is a complex systemic change in human ecology. It is unleashing secondary impacts that have demographic and epidemiological consequences, which in turn create feedback loops into the dynamics of the epidemic itself.

HIV / AIDS is certainly an historic event. It may also be a 'Darwinian event'. We argue that historians have two particular responsibilities with regard to this epidemic. Firstly history should provide us with ideas, paradigms and methodologies for understanding and responding to the disease. Secondly there is an awful predictability about HIV / AIDS and what it has the potential to do. Historians have the experience of seeing an event of unparalleled significance unfold before their eyes. To some extent this history can be written in advance as a wake-up call as to what might happen. Certainly there must be lessons from the past that we can apply to this epidemic.

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