Limbaugh Promotes A New Myth: Greeks Gave Themselves HIV For Welfare Money
Blog ››› ››› TODD GREGORY
Rush Limbaugh is citing an erroneous report about HIV in Greece to falsely claim that half of all recent infections there were self-inflicted for the purpose of receiving government benefits. In fact, the original report on AIDS and HIV in Greece does not confirm a single instance of a person intentionally infecting himself with HIV.
Limbaugh is surely fascinated by this erroneous report because it fits into the false right-wing narrative that government programs that help the poor encourage laziness and dependency.
Limbaugh read from a post about Greece by the British magazine New Scientist during his November 25 radio show:
After reading from the post, Limbaugh attempted to link LGBT people to diseases by saying, "Is that true? Greece is like the gay capital of the world? You heard that? I just had a note flashed to me that says -- well, I don't know about that."
The magazine reported that Greeks who have HIV receive a monthly benefit of 700 euros, which is currently about $945.
For the statistic that half of all recent infections in Greece were self-inflicted, New Scientist cited a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations.
However, the WHO report is incorrect. The WHO's source for this figure is a 2011 study in the British medical journal The Lancet. Here is what the Lancet study actually says:
An authoritative report described accounts of deliberate self-infection by a few individuals to obtain access to benefits of €700 per month and faster admission onto drug substitution programmes. These programmes offer access to synthetic opioids and can have waiting lists of 3 years or more in urban areas. [emphasis added]
Somehow, the "few individuals" mentioned by The Lancet became "half of new HIV infections" in the WHO report.
Furthermore, the "authoritative report" cited by The Lancet says:
An additional factor the committee believed worth considering is the well-founded suspicion that some problem users are intentionally infected with HIV, because of the benefit they are entitled to (approximately € 1,400 every two months), and also because they are granted "exceptional admission" to the Substitution Programme. It is well-known that the Substitution Programme has a long waiting list and that the waiting time can be over 3-4 years. Drug users with a severe chronic condition jump the queue and are admitted in a short period of time. [emphasis added]
So, the original source for this claim merely says that there is a "well-founded suspicion" that "some problem users" of IV drugs had intentionally infected themselves. A "suspicion" is not the same thing as a documented occurrence, let alone "half" of all recent infections.
WHO posted a correction to its study on November 26, explaining that the claim that "about half of new HIV infections being self-inflicted to enable people to receive benefits" was the result of an editing error:
In September 2013, WHO/Europe published "Review of social determinants and the health divide in the WHO European Region". The report incorrectly states that, in Greece: "HIV rates and heroin use have risen significantly, with about half of new HIV infections being self-inflicted to enable people to receive benefits of €700 per month and faster admission on to drug substitution programmes".
This statement is the consequence of an error in the editing of the report.