WHOoops: We messed up saying many people were depraved

Another hyped mistake. This one seemed too ridiculous to believe and, thankfully, it is wrong.

Oops: WHO says it was wrong about Greeks giving themselves HIV en masse.

The World Health Organization has just published a doozy of a correction. In a 188-page report published last month on health issues in European countries, the WHO’s European office said something very alarming: large numbers of Greek people were deliberately infecting themselves with HIV to get public benefits worth about $1,000 per month. This was causing HIV rates in Greece to rise “significantly,” it warned, with about half of the new cases being self-inflicted.

Except it turns out that this is not true. The WHO explains, in a correction posted to its Web site Tuesday, that the authors of its report based this statement on a study in the medical journal Lancet. But that study found only a small number of anecdotal cases of Greek people infecting themselves with HIV to get benefit pay-outs. That’s shocking enough on its own, but as the WHO now acknowledges, there’s no evidence that this is a mass trend driving the very real spike in HIV rates.

The original report read “”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 was a misinterpretation of correspondence published in the Lancet by Alexander Kentikelenis and colleagues in September 2011 that noted a FEW of these cases, not half. And, that allegation is not even supported but suspected based on some anedotes – not good evidence. It’s not clear how this mistake was made but it certainly does alter the meaning significantly. It’s not a trend.

Snopes.com renders this “Mostly False” snopes.com: Self-Inflicted HIV in Greece.