Spectator letters: Why Aids is still a threat, elephants are altruistic, and crime has gone online

26 April 2014

9:00 AM

26 April 2014

9:00 AM

Aids is still deadly

Sir: Dr Pemberton (‘Life after Aids’, 19 April) subscribes to the now prevalent view that we have turned the corner on Aids. Well only up to a point, Lord Copper.

There are now about 100,000 HIV carriers in the UK, and in London, where Dr Pemberton works, as in the rest of the UK, reports of new diagnoses of HIV infection are continuing at much the same rate as before. These diagnoses are too often of individuals who have been infected for years, and are liable to have passed HIV on to others. It is also estimated that as many as one fifth of all HIV-infected individuals in the UK remain undiagnosed.

Dr Pemberton is right to say that anti-retroviral treatment has greatly extended survival with HIV infection. It is, however, too early to state that life expectancy of someone with HIV is now similar to that of someone without the virus. That outcome depends on prompt suppression of viral replication by early treatment, an opportunity only available to those who have had their infection diagnosed swiftly. This requires more frequent and regular HIV testing of those at continued high risk of infection than happens at present. Sustained treatment will also render HIV carriers sexually non-infectious; however it is not necessarily easy to persuade apparently fit people, or indeed their clinicians, of the advantage of embarking straightaway on a lifetime’s daily treatment, given its possible side effects.

It is no time to be complacent about HIV/Aids, either from a clinical or a public health perspective.
Dr Philip Mortimer, retired virologist
South Northamptonshire

Bad biology

Sir: I was mildly amused by Theo Hobson’s article ‘Atheism’s empty tomb’ (19 April), but for the wrong reasons. While I wish to pick no quarrel with his theology, his biology was strewn with schoolboy errors. See me after class.

To say, with no caveat, that ‘evolution can be used to authorise eugenics’, is as silly as saying that the theory of gravity can be used to authorise Hiroshima. Evolution explains what has happened and how it happens, not what wickedness should prevail. Thereby, he has evidently embraced that weary creationist trope. He implies that the ‘survival of the fittest’, a phrase used by Darwin, means that of the strongest or fiercest. It actually means the most suited to a particular environment. It is equally absurd to say that Christianity can be used to authorise disembowelling. I don’t think Theo Hobson would let that one slip by.

Hobson also gets into a terrible muddle over the uniqueness of morality to Homo sapiens. Any primatologist or elephant expert will gently explain to him that examples of altruism abound in species with self-awareness. Human exceptionalism is rapidly toppling out of the bunk. If he had written about the ‘codification’ of morality, on the other hand, then he would have raised his grades.

He was right, however, about the often overlooked biblical imagery of the Reverend King’s majestic speech. Full marks for that.
Nicky Campbell

Crime thrives online

Sir: Mr Kelly (Letters, 19 April) urges scepticism about the assertion that crime is falling. He is partly right. In Thames Valley the figures are rigorously scrutinised, both internally and by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary. Most crimes that are measured are at a historically low level. Recent murder rates are lower than they have been for years, household burglary is at its lowest for 40 years, and overall measured crime is at the lowest for 25 years. Violence is also at a low level — when was there last a major bank robbery? Household burglary nowadays is largely carried out by a few people feeding a drug habit. Catch them, and the crime rate falls quickly. In Thames Valley the total value of household burglary was about £10 million last year.

Professional criminals today are into fraud, scams and internet-enabled crime. The value of this kind of crime is quoted by the Home Office as being well over £50 billion nationally. A simple extrapolation shows that the value of this largely new crime is tens of times larger than traditional acquisitive crime, but is difficult to measure as it takes place across both national and international boundaries, and much of it goes unreported. Unfortunately, you do not reduce this crime by more police walking the streets.

The ‘astonishing statements of expert witnesses’ mentioned by Mr Kelly were largely made by retired chief constables, who were the very people in charge when the figures really were being fiddled.
Anthony Stansfeld
Police and Crime Commissioner
Thames Valley

Ticket inspectors, please

Sir: The real scandal of the Stonegate bilker is Southeastern’s revenue protection performance — what you and I would call ticket inspection — where it has taken five years to spot this cheat (Notes, 19 April). If the chances of having one’s ticket properly examined on a 75-minute journey are no better than about 1 in 2,000, then something is sadly wrong. In an industry which is dependent on taxpayer funds, it is Southeastern that should be hanging its head in shame and seeking anonymity, not the fare-dodger.
Richard Maund

Middle of the road fascism

Sir: Mark Steyn (The slow death of free speech’, 19 April) has got it right. The new puritanism that he describes makes one thing clear: totalitarianism is not simply a matter of left or right. It can come from the so-called ‘tolerant’ centre.
Christopher Arthur

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