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Project November 28, 2014

HIV’s Origins—and the Lessons for Today


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When did HIV originate and where? How did it become the worst pandemic of our times? Three scientists—from Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the United States—search for answers, across Africa and in the laboratories of Europe and the United States.

The Ebola outbreak in west Africa underscores the persistent threat of infectious diseases. Where do these deadly viruses come from? How do they find their way into humans and what does it take to make a pandemic?

This project addresses those questions through the mystery of HIV, still the biggest viral killer worldwide with 36 million dead of AIDS and another 35 million living with the virus.

What the scientists have found—and what this project describes, through a documentary, multimedia presentations and background essays—is that HIV has been with us for much longer than most of us knew. It started to infect its first victims around 100 years ago in a remote part of central Africa. It was the colonial opening up of that region which created opportunities for the virus to jump into humans and then spread.

The project tells the story of the unknown pre-history of the AIDS virus, long before people started to die in the United States and Europe. Its lessons are very much relevant today, with the planet's thirst for raw materials bringing thousands of people into intimate contact with pathogens that were never seen in humans before.


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