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WHO's Error Leads To Misguided Meme About Greeks And HIV


We don't want to spread misinformation, but we do want to do what we can to correct it.

So, just to be clear:

The World Health Organization says it was MISTAKEN when it wrote in September that "about half of new HIV infections" in Greece in recent years were "self-inflicted to enable people to receive benefits of 700 [euros] per month and faster admission on to drug-substitution programs."

That INCORRECT line made it into a Drudge Report headline, on to Rush Limbaugh's radio show and has turned into something of an Internet meme.

The original, WRONG claim is also still showing up in news reports.

So what does WHO say now about the mistake and what does it say is the RIGHT information?

"What is accurate to say is that slightly more than half of the Greece's new HIV cases are among those who inject drugs," WHO wrote Tuesday. And, yes, that's the way the sentence about accuracy was written — "more than half of the Greece's."

"An error in the editing of the report" is to blame for its earlier mistake, WHO says. Somehow, a line in The Lancet that said "half of the currently observed increases [are] attributable to infections among intravenous drug users," may have gotten mixed with information from a research institute's study of HIV/AIDS in Greece.

The institute's study mentions that there is a "well-founded suspicion that some problem users are intentionally infected with HIV, because of the benefit they are entitled to ... and also because they are granted 'exceptional admission' " to a treatment program.

Apparently that "well-founded suspicion" about "some problem users" was linked to the data about intravenous drug users.

To summarize:

-- WHO says it was WRONG.

-- Half of new HIV cases in Greece ARE NOT self-inflicted.

With that, we'll stop SHOUTING.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.