Edward Hooper – a brief bio.
I was born in 1951. After enjoying a largely happy childhood on the edge of Epping Forest, near London, I graduated in 1973 with a degree in American Literature from the University of Sussex. After two years teaching English at secondary school level, I decided to follow heart rather than head, and spent the next year travelling through Africa.
It was the start of a love affair with that continent. I spent six of the next twelve years there, working briefly as a store-man on a diamond mine in Lesotho, and then in Uganda as a transport officer – first for World Food Programme, and then for UNHCR.
Later, I returned to England, where I spent eight months writing a Minority Rights Group report on Uganda, which was published in 1984. This was my first serious piece of writing (albeit one that brought in just £500), and it apparently had some impact in Whitehall. What this made me realise was that through accurate and sober reporting of events (in this case the genocide that had been taking place during Milton Obote’s second regime), one could actually make a difference. In 1985 I returned to Africa as a freelance correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian, among other media outlets. I was based in Sudan from 1985-6, and in Uganda from 1986-7.
Up to this point, as I recall, I was hard-working, but not always tremendously well-focussed. But then in June 1986 I had an experience which changed my life. Together with a French photo-journalist, I spent four days travelling around a cluster of villages in southern Uganda where a community-wide AIDS epidemic was already raging. This may have been the first visible example, anywhere in the world, of AIDS dominating an entire community. The historical background was that these were the border villages where Ugandan and Tanzanian soldiers had made their camps during the 1978-9 liberation war. There were no specific risk groups here: men, women and children were all dying, and those whose blood had been tested proved to be positive for HTLV-III (or HIV-1, as we now call it). It was an important and powerful story, and I reported it for (among others) the New York Times, the Independent on Sunday, and the BBC.
Although I had previously written about famines and civil wars, I found this experience in southern Uganda profoundly moving and disturbing – not least for what it foretold of the havoc that HIV and AIDS would soon be wreaking among communities in other places, in other continents. My thinking changed almost overnight. I stopped having unprotected sex, and had a series of HIV tests (all thankfully negative). And within nine months, I had given up journalism and returned to England, where I began writing Slim, a very personal account of the East African AIDS epidemic.
The book was published in 1990, and I promptly began researching a further book, this time about the origins of HIV and AIDS. At that stage, I thought this second book might take two years to research and write, but it actually took nine. During these years, I began doing serious research in medical libraries, and conducted well over 600 scientific interviews. In the process, I received what were effectively free tutorials from some of the greatest scientific minds in Europe and North America.
Perhaps the greatest mind of all belonged to the evolutionary biologist, Bill Hamilton, who quickly became a friend, a collaborator, and a supporter of my work. But before Bill and I had even met (in 1993), we had both come across – and been impressed by – the oral polio vaccine (OPV) hypothesis of origin of AIDS (then being propounded by such independent researchers as Louis Pascal, Tom Curtis and Blaine Elswood). This proposed that Man himself had inadvertently sparked the pandemic through African trials of an experimental OPV. The research that I had already done into the earliest detectable cases of HIV infection and AIDS revealed that there were striking similarities between the locations of these early cases, and the places where this particular OPV, CHAT, had been administered in Africa (in the Belgian Congo and what is now Burundi and Rwanda). The fact that the CHAT researchers had sacrificed hundreds of chimpanzees in the course of their African studies raised the possibility that the vaccine used in these Belgian colonies might have somehow been contaminated with the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) of the common chimp, which is the closest viral relative to HIV-1. Unlike all but one of the other hypotheses of origin then being advanced, this one was not readily disprovable.
The only other really viable theory was the so-called “cut hunter” or “bushmeat ” hypothesis, which proposed that chimp SIV had transferred to humans during the cutting up of chimpanzees for the pot. The main shortcomings of that hypothesis were that it had difficulty explaining both the timing (four known outbreaks of AIDS in Africa in the second half of the twentieth century), and the locations of the very first cases.
In August/September 1999, my book The River was published in Britain and America. It featured a searing, surprisingly hard-hitting foreword by Bill Hamilton. Despite the fact that it backed a controversial hypothesis, The River was taken seriously by the scientific community, and re-ignited debate into how the AIDS pandemic had begun. Partly prompted by Hamilton, who was a Royal Society research professor and (according to many) the star of that illustrious institution, a two-day Royal Society conference was scheduled, under the working title: “Origins of HIV and the AIDS epidemic”.
At this point, however, the playing-field was suddenly transformed. Tragically, Bill Hamilton died in March 2000, after the second of his trips to the Congo. The Royal Society meeting was postponed to September of that year. Instead of the honest and open debate and the even-handed investigation of the OPV theory which had been promised, what actually took place was a carefully-planned attempt to suppress the theory by fair means or foul. The conference became focused around the testing of samples of CHAT vaccine which the parent institute (the Wistar, in Philadelphia) had finally released for independent analysis. The vaccinators and the meeting organisers insisted that the tested vaccine samples were representative of the vaccines which had been prepared for use in Africa. Since they tested negative for HIV, SIV and chimpanzee DNA, they concluded that the OPV hypothesis had been disproved – and an acquiescent press largely concurred.
The reality, however, was very different. None of the tested samples had been prepared for the African trials. In fact, none of them had ever been anywhere near Africa.
Another argument used by the bushmeat proponents was that during the 20th century outbreaks of other variants of HIV-1 and HIV-2 had occurred in West Central Africa and West Africa, respectively. However, as I reported in the paperback editions of The River published in 2000, the French had staged similar polio vaccine trials in these parts of Africa starting in 1957, and these vaccines (just like the Belgian vaccines used in the Belgian Congo) had been prepared in the cells of local primates. In other words the French vaccines might well have triggered the minor outbreaks of AIDS which emerged in exactly the same time-frame as the AIDS pandemic.
As the weeks and months passed after the Royal Society meeting, it became increasingly clear that a carefully-organised whitewash was being carried out, partly by the original vaccinators (who had, among other things, leant on witnesses to change key aspects of their stories), and partly by well-meaning research scientists who firstly were unwilling or unable to imagine that their peers might not be telling the truth, and secondly could not countenance the possibility that their own work of the last ten years might be erroneous.
Stung by this realisation, I decided that I had no alternative but to continue my independent investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
Over the years that followed, several people (both scientists and enthusiastic amateurs) have assisted in that investigation, and more and more scientific and historical evidence has emerged to support the OPV theory. Perhaps most importantly, evidence from several sources indicates that in the 1950s oral polio vaccines were routinely preserved or grown in whichever cell cultures and tissue cultures were locally available in a particular lab – there were no laws against the use of different primate species, as long as these cells kept polioviruses alive. It has also emerged that, uniquely, the cells that were being used to prepare polio vaccines at the laboratory in Stanleyville, Belgian Congo, which co-ordinated the CHAT vaccinations, were prepared from chimpanzee kidneys=, and nourished by a growth medium made from chimpanzee sera.
My long-standing suspicion had turned out to be correct, but what I had got wrong (largely because of the loud denials of the vaccinators) was that the vaccines used in the Belgian Congo had been prepared not in the West, but in Africa itself.
Because the conclusions of the Royal Society meeting are nowadays frequently presented as “facts” or “truths”, it becomes correspondingly harder for alternative views and information to emerge in the scientific literature. Letters and articles which I and others have written pointing out the flaws in the bushmeat arguments have been consistently ignored. Quite simply, there are a lot of scientists (many of them quite eminent ones) who find it easier to look the other way, and pretend that the OPV theory has been refuted. It should be added that quite powerful forces (legal, financial and governmental) are now being invoked to further that end.
On the positive side, to those who have the time and interest to look, the untruths that are being told, and the nature and scale of the cover-up, are becoming more and more obvious. There are rather close parallels between this debate, and that about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
More than 50 million people have died since the start of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, making this the worst or second worst public health disaster of all time in terms of deaths. Since The River was published I have made important further discoveries, and I am still writing on this subject today. Quite unexpectedly, the question of how AIDS began has taken over my last 34 years, which for me represents half a lifetime. If, in the unholy era of COVID-19, the origins of AIDS is an issue that concerns you, then please read on….
EH 26/05/04, updated on 20/05/20