Date: Fri, 23 Aug 1996 09:21:31 +0800 (WST)
From: Peter Limb <>
Subject: Norwegian Govt blames AIDS on Africans, Africans united in anger
From: R Sadki <>
Subject: Norwegian Govt blames AIDS on Africans, Africans united in anger

An Astonishingly Bad Idea

By Mary Haour-Knipe, 23 August 1996

There is bad news coming from Norway. Health department authorities have decided to stress a risk of HIV transmission between Norwegian heterosexuals and African immigrants in the country. A political adviser at the Local Government Ministry, apparently defending the authorities' efforts to focus on Africans and AIDS, commented that nobody has anything to gain from seeing difficult social issues being swept under the carpet.

The social issues are indeed difficult. But there are at least three main reasons that stressing such a link is an astonishingly bad idea.

First, the epidemiological argument is a very difficult one to handle. If one thinks only in terms of groups, and in terms of abstract calculations of risk, there is unarguably more risk of encountering HIV if one sleeps with—or uses injections material of—somebody from a group particularly affected. But there are several problems with such reasoning.

In the case at hand, epidemiological data has been released concerning Africans in Norway, but what is to assure that the epidemiological data is accurate? There are numerous technical and human rights reasons that it may not be entirely reliable. To start with, in order to properly compare the two groups, one would have to make sure all Norwegians, and all Africans in Norway were tested. This is clearly an impossible task.

Moreover, the chances for misuse of such data are extremely high since it may be used to support xenophobic arguments against foreigners. Perhaps most importantly, such thinking far too quickly confuses the group and the individual. It assumes that all members of a group are the same. In this case, it assumes that all sub-Sahara Africans are the same, whereas even a brief glance at a map shows that a great many countries are involved. Minimal sense of social science would indicate that an entire continent contains different cultures, heritages, economies, and relations with other countries. And a minimum HIV/AIDS culture indicates that sub-Sarahan Africa has many different AIDS epidemics.

The second reason that stressing such a link is an astonishingly bad idea is that singling out one group is stigmatizing. It encourages the idea, which many had thought sucessfully rejected long ago, that it is not acts or behaviours that transmit HIV, but what somebody is. In the case of Africans in Norway, which concerns people of a skin colour different from the majority of the population, it also raises the ugly head of raicsm.

The risk in stigmatising any group is of alienating whole populations. We have known from the beginning of the epidemic that such finger-pointing succeeds only in making people defensive and angry. It makes them less likely to listen to prevention messages, or to feel well-disposed toward using condoms with their sexual partners. When they are migrants, it makes them feel that they are decidedly unwelcome in the country in which they are living. It makes them wonder how they can possibly receive supportive care, or even consideration.

The third reason that stressing a link between AIDS and Africans in Norway is an astonishingly bad idea is that it is dangerous to the host population. It suggests that HIV and AIDS only concern Africans, or that if I am Norwegian, it's not my problem. It creates a false sense of security, giving the illusion that anyone who is outside the target group is probably safe, that precautions are thus not necessary.

That this issue is coming from Norway is especially distressing, since Norway had been known for its attitude of equality and justice. It leaves the door open to the idea that equality and justice may not be aplied equally when it comes to foreigners. At the very least, the matter has been poorly handled, as attested by protest demonstrations within the country.

The issue does not just concern Africans in Norway, it concerns all of us, migrants or not, and wherever we are. It is not only, as has been apparently implied, Norwegian women who have had sexual relations with African men who should be careful, who should avail themselves of testing—and of counselling. Nor is it just Africans who think they might be HIV positive who should use protection. Condoms should be used for any sexual relations other than those between mutually monogamous HIV negative partners.

How many times does it have to be said?

It is not complicated. And it has nothing to do with being a migrant.