Nobel Peace Prize Winner Attempts To Explain Comments About Origins of HIV, Says Statements Taken Out of Context
Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai on Thursday -- one day before she was scheduled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway -- attempted to "defuse a controversy" over previously reported comments she made about the possible origins of HIV, the New York Times reports (Gibbs, New York Times, 12/10). In August, Kenya's East African Standard quoted Maathai as saying that HIV/AIDS was created by scientists "for the purpose of mass extermination." She added, "AIDS is not a curse from God to Africans or the black people. It is a tool to control them designed by some evil-minded scientists, but we may not know who particularly did." In October, Maathai repeated her belief that HIV was "devised to destroy black people." She added that her comments published in the Standard were "intended to promote an inquiring attitude" toward HIV/AIDS among Africans and "combat the fatalistic notion that it was a curse from God." Although Maathai said she never indicated that a specific region or nation was responsible for creating HIV/AIDS, she said she is "suspicious" about the "secrecy surrounding the origin of the virus" and that "some people say it came from the monkeys, and I doubt it" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/12). In a statement released Thursday by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects Peace Prize laureates, Maathai said that she has been "shocked" by the negative reaction to her statements, adding, "It is therefore critical for me to state that I neither say nor believe that the virus was developed by white people or white powers in order to destroy the African people. Such views are wicked and destructive." The statement continued, "But I'm sure the scientists will continue their search for concluding evidence so that the view -- which continues to be quite widespread -- that the tragedy could have been caused by biological experiments that failed terribly in a laboratory somewhere, can be put to rest."
Although Maathai said Thursday that her original comments in the Standard were "taken out of context," Amos Kareithi -- the reporter who quoted Maathai -- "rejected" her claim, according to the Times. "I will not back off even a single word," he said, adding, "What I wrote was the truth." Nobel officials, who have declined to comment on Maathai's statements, did not know about her reported views on the origins of HIV when they announced that she would receive the prize, according to committee chair Ole Danbolt Mjoes. Stig Froeland, professor of immunology at Norway's national research hospital, said that awarding Maathai the Peace Prize could "give fuel to all these murky areas and conspiratorial hypotheses" about the origins of HIV (New York Times, 12/10).