The use of so-called genetic fingerprinting now allows scientists to identify changes in the evolution of the virus and thereby dispute accusations, such as the one Libya made against Bulgarian nurses, that one group or another was spreading the virus.
“With the exception of one serious outbreak in China, virtually all the strains of HIV now circulating in Asia - from Manipur, India, all the way to Vietnam, from mid-China all the way down to Indonesia, come from a single country,” Laurie Garrett, author of the 67-page report, told a news conference.
“Several research teams have proven that these various HIV strains can be tracked along four major routes, all originating in Burma,” she said, referring to Myanmar’s former name.
The highest infection rates are among prostitutes and heroin users in Myanmar, ranked as the world’s top opium producer until 2003 when Afghanistan moved to first place.
“Burma is a failed state, rife with civil war and rival gangs of drug, gem and sex-slave smugglers,” said the report, entitled “HIV and National Security: Where Are The Links?”
Garrett said the new technology, known as molecular epidemiology, could counter accusations of who spread the epidemic. For example, a year ago, India charged that “promiscuous Pakistanis” spread HIV in Kashmir.
More serious is Libya’s jailing in 1999 of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, accused of deliberately infecting 426 children with HIV. Bulgaria countered that Libya failed to screen its blood transfusion supplies.
“Were the Libyan government willing to comply, a study of the HIV strains found in the 426 infected children might offer proof of their origin,” Garrett’s report said.
Using genetic techniques, researchers have also proved that the rapidly growing HIV epidemic in the former Soviet Union - Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states - appears to stem from one strain spread by drug users nearly a decade ago.
“Nearly all of the HIV viruses circulating in that region…closely match one another genetically, were introduced into the area in 1996-97 and are being spread through injection by drug users,” Garrett wrote.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.