New Theory Blames HIV/AIDS on the Collapse of Socialism

Yasmin S. Portales Machado

HAVANA TIMES — Miguel Angel Ferrer published his theory about the cause of the spread of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe: the fall of the Berlin Wall. He holds that “in the case of the part of Europe that was socialist, the explanation for the increasing presence of HIV and AIDS is (…) the collapse of their planned economies and social ownership of the means of production.”

This discovery was published in his blog maintained online by Venezuela’s TeleSur television network.

Ferrer is a Mexican professor of political economy and an analyst for several publications and radio programs. His blog entries focus on the politics of his nation, though nothing so far has identified him as a HIV/AIDS researcher or activist.

His post “El sida ayer y hoy” (AIDS: Yesterday and Today) has no date, but we can attribute it to the avalanche of information about World AIDS Day. After a brief review of the change in the impact of the disease, with the development of anti-retroviral therapies, Ferrer focuses on two regions: sub-Saharan Africa and the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe.

In the former case he attributes the advance of the disease to post-colonial underdevelopment, and, in the second, to the restoration of capitalism.

I should note that the blog doesn’t accept comments.

Luis Rondon Paz, a Cuban gay rights activist, published a response on his webpage Espacio Cr0 with his entry titled “So HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe is the Fault of Capitalists and Neo-Nazis?” This reply was posted on December 27 and is now the most visited post on the Proyecto Arcoiris website, where it was republished.

Rondon Paz challenges Ferrer’s “socio-economic” argument by saying that the key is in the “perception of risk that people have in the face of the AIDS epidemic,” which he accuses of being manipulated and concludes by citing Cuba and Brazil as examples of the fight against the pandemic.

Miguel Angel Ferrer published his theory about the cause of the spread of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe: the fall of the Berlin Wall. He holds that “in the case of the part of Europe that was socialist, the explanation for the increasing presence of HIV and AIDS is the collapse of their planned economies and social ownership of the means of production.”

I don’t think that the model of struggle being waged by Cuba contradicts Miguel Angel Ferrer’s arguments. Eastern Europe is a social, epidemiological and political setting that’s very different from that faced by Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health, which is involved (through its budgetary allocations and its control of international resources) in all aspects of the pandemic – from clinical to cultural characteristics.

But the manipulation in the post “AIDS: Yesterday and Today” are flagrant:

First, life is presented in the former socialist as a paradise. Ferrer writes: “Those were austere but healthy economies, where life went on without major social contrasts, without opulence or misery, where all of their inhabitants were ensured a reasonably good level and quality of life.”

Abundant testimonies attest that the economies of the Soviet Union and its satellites were terribly poor, and the distribution of wealth was far from equitable, both regionally and between social strata maintained by the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Second, he distorts the major news item announced by UNAIDS in 2012. The agency’s annual report indicates that the end of the epidemic is possible, but the most striking result is that while AIDS has declined in Africa, where “a reduction of over 50 percent in cases of new HIV infections has been achieved,” though this is not the case with the rest of the world. Equating the conditions in Africa and Eastern Europe is necessary for Ferrer’s vain “anti-imperialist” argument, but it’s not true, not even superficially.

The third error Ferrer makes is assuming that the cause of the spread of HIV/AIDS is socioeconomic. Numerous studies have shown that the problem with this disease (and venereal diseases generally) are patriarchal models on which sexuality is usually modeled, systemic sexual violence, and the stigma associated with having an STD. Otherwise, the pandemic would have been stopped earlier in the First World.

With this third argument, Ferrer reminds me of African presidents Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe, who have suggested that AIDS stems from poverty and not the HIV infection. Fortunately he doesn’t dare to deny the advances in its treatment!

Well, I guess this is why there’s freedom of speech, but sometimes it kills.

Links (in Spanish):

El sida ayer y hoy

¿Así que el VIH/Sida en Europa del Este es culpa de capitalistas y neo-nazis?

¿Por qué el Sida retrocede en África y no en el resto del mundo?


8 thoughts on “New Theory Blames HIV/AIDS on the Collapse of Socialism

  • The only naive here is you, thinking that unsafe sex and needle-sharing ‘suddenly’ came to existence only after the fall of the USSR.

    The transition from Soviet Russia to the Russian Federation was a social/economic catastrophe that you cannot just ‘blame it on the ordinary people’.

  • Consider this: after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an entire generation of young adults who spent their formative adolescent years under the represssive socialist regimes of eastern Europe suddenly found themselves free to choose lifesyles aand make decisions which were forbidden behind the “iron curtain”. Many made decisions which included unsafe sex and needle-sharing. This social phenomenon is largely a result of the lack of social maturity that existed at that time and nothing to due with state vs. private property ownership. To identify this negative social reaction to capitalism is disingenuous. Despite the political repression in Cuba, Cubans do not suffer the same types of sexual and social repression that existed in the Soviet Union. As a result, although Cubans are clearly economically and politiically naive, they are socially adept and aware. When the shock wave of political freedom comes to Cuba, the negative social reaction will be minimum.

  • Thanks for the further information on that subject. I hadn’t considered the situation where the unfortunate young man with AIDS went willingly to the sanitarium because his family had rejected him. That must have been the case too. But the sanitorium policy did continue for several years, from 1986 to 1989 and then with lighter restrictions until 1993.

    Back in the early 90’s I lived in a co-op apartment building where 1/4 of the units were subsidized rentals for people on social assistance. My next door neighbor had one of these units where lived out his last two years while dying from AIDS. His family were conservative religious people and they had long ago rejected their gay son. When he called them to say he was dying, they spurned him still. They said this was God’s punishment.

    I wondered then what God’s punishment would be for his parents’ unloving hearts?

  • Griffin:
    Your claim “Consider how the Cuban authorities dealt with HIV/AIDS, by essentially arresting anybody with the virus and quarantining them in isolated hospitals” is out of date. The reclution system was abandon in the ’90s, due to economic pressure and the advances in the treatment.
    Also, we must remember that some people were abandoned by their families due to the fear and had no place to go but the sanatorium.

  • Paul Greene:
    Sorry, but I didn´t know that I have to give bibliography about the lack of social justice in the former Soviet Union. My parents and the parents of my husband are full of histories about the Soviet people, their housing problems and the diferences in the quality of life from Moscow to Odessa. They are (the 4 of them) loyals to Fidel and “the Revolution”, yet, they insist in the impossible life of the Soviet people, under more surveliance than any cuban.
    If, as you said, in East Europe the HIV/AIDS spread due to use of intravenous drugs and the lack of resources for prevention, then Miguel Ángel Ferrer must have said so. Blaming capitalism, in general, is superficial and easy.
    And, in general, I can´t trust in Miguel Ángel Ferrer arguments because he lied about Africa situation.

  • ‘Holds no water’ + ‘propaganda statistics’ + ignores Paul’s link data completely = empty rhetoric.

  • When the Communist governments of Eastern Europe collapsed it was discovered that their healthcare systems were not all the propaganda had cracked them up to be. Life-expectancy was much lower than reported and rates of heart disease, suicide and cancers were much higher. HIV/AIDS hit at about the same time, but as you pointed out, the most common vector for transmission was not unsafe sex, but shared needle drugs. The increase in heroin addiction in the Soviet Union was a consequence of their ill-fated war with Afghanistan.

    The author’s claim that HIV/AIDS spread as a consequence of the restoration of capitalism holds no water. However, the weakening healthcare systems and social disintegration that accompanied the collapse of Communism did play a role in the spread of the disease.

    Consider how the Cuban authorities dealt with HIV/AIDS, by essentially arresting anybody with the virus and quarantining them in isolated hospitals. This may have been a harsh policy and violated civil liberties of the people locked up, but given the rather free sexual mores of the Cuban people, this policy probably prevented an epidemic and saved many lives.

  • An interesting argument, though still not very clear or compelling. Notwithstanding, Ferrer may just be on to something with his “anti-imperialist argument” — despite the “numerous [un-named] studies” and the “abundant [unidentified] testimonies” to the contrary.

    Thought this too was interesting (

    “After the fall of the Soviet Union, the already lacking health care system saw no improvements and began to deteriorate exponentially (Notzon et al., 1998). Poor medical care combined with high pollution from vehicles and factories as well as dwindling resources lowered the health status of the people (Cassileth et al, 1995). The health care system in Russia was in a crisis and many [remaining] practicing doctors were under trained, lacked updated medical equipment, and were poorly paid. Ultimately this led to a shortage of doctors, with the ratio dropping to one for every 275 citizens (Curtis, 1996).

    “The poor state of the health care system was one of the leading forces affecting Russia in the past decade. Barr and Field (1996) found the post-Soviet health care reform increased costs and limited access to health care, which likely affected Russia’s life expectancy. … A poor health care system also affects the quality of disease treatment and prevention. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is an issue plaguing Russia’s youth; people aged between 15 and 29 make up 80 percent of infected persons. The rapid spread of HIV/AIDS has been attributed to the massive amount of intravenous drug users now present within the country (The World Bank, 2011).”

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