Sun | Nov 28, 2021

Bain booted because ... ?

Published:Sunday | May 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Professor Brendan Bain

Orville Taylor

It is Gotham City and the dark knight rises, in the final in a trilogy starring the elusive and all-powerful Batman. He is a strange hero; no superpowers and no logical reason to be in the same category as Superman or Flash. Indeed, this mortal alter ego of the millionaire, Bruce Wayne, doesn't even belong with Aquaman, but they are members of the paradoxical Justice League, which is really a group of vigilantes who take the law into their own hands, 'benevolently' acting outside of the legitimate justice system.

In the last instalment, the arch-villain of both Bruce and Batman is the alliterative Bane, a super-intelligent and hyper-strong man, born on a Caribbean island, with a major aversion to bats and anything 'battish'. Bane, a victim of sorts, was made to work tirelessly over a 30-year period, in a prison, serving a sentence that he didn't deserve. As he finally emerges, he is haunted by the image of a bat. With an apparatus looking like a mask that, if removed, could cripple him, Bane's mission is to destroy both Bs, and he goes after Batman.

This is not Gotham, but another alliterative character, Brendan Bain, born in the Caribbean, has arisen and is seen as a villain. Spelt differently, this Bain is a professor of great intellect and works, and a genius like the fictional homophonic antagonist. Bain had no equivalent of Batman in his cross hairs, but having removed his mask and spoken, he, like Bane, has suffered crippling and debilitating harm, being cut off from the lifeline he had at the former plantation, The University of the West Indies (UWI).

FIGHT AGAINST HIV/AIDS

Bain is a scientist and medical doctor who had led the fight against HIV/AIDS since the 1990s, a subject surrounded by myths, lies, misconceptions and hysteria. Before and since heading the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network in 2003, he has researched and increased public knowledge and facilitated the funnelling of multimillion-dollar grants. There is no single person in academia and activism who has done more for persons infected with this virus.

With the increased knowledge, there has been greater sensitivity and understanding, and the level of ostracism and stigma has declined. Moreover, with the initiatives from CHART, and, of course, the local partners, such as the Ministry of Health and the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, medication has been reaching the persons unfortunate enough to have contracted HIV, and, as a result, the morbidity rate has declined significantly, from the high in the 1980s.

Indeed, HIV (and even AIDS) is no longer a death sentence here in Jamaica and the Caribbean, as persons diagnosed with the virus now typically have good prognoses for living until they can collect their NIS benefits. In fact, many other diseases, such as certain types of cancers, are surer to result in quick death.

Nonetheless, like all major chronic diseases, which is what HIV/AIDS is now, there are statistical correlations. For example, some percentage of smokers have some indication of lung disease. Heart disease is strongly correlated with the consumption of red animal protein, and excessive sugar intake leads to obesity. However, among all the demographic indicators and correlates of lifestyle diseases, that which is mostly associated with HIV infection is perhaps the strongest such statistical relationship.

A kind media and academia have taken the politically correct high road since the 1980s and early 1990s, and avoided calling a spade a spade because it might cause too much shovel. In those decades, the hysteria caused by the high profile of homosexual men such as Rock Hudson carrying the face of the virus and its early manifestations among the category here in Jamaica led to stigmatisation in derisive terms associated with an anagram of the name of the caped crusader.

FACTS ARE FACTS

Yet, despite the fact that the majority of HIV-positive persons in the Ministry of Health's database being 'gyallis', self-described heterosexual men, men who (admit) having sex with men (MSM) are over-represented to an alarming extent.

More than one out of every three self-declared MSM is HIV-positive. Given the low societal approval for MSM activity, there is every reason to believe that among the 9,000-plus straight men, there are outliers and plain liars who are on the down-low and live deeply ensconced in closets and cupboards. With this in mind, we sociologists and psychologists would be comfortable in estimating that the prevalence of HIV among MSM could very well be 50 per cent.

I don't like killing the messenger, because as the Jamaican maxim says, if fish say that there are sharks and other dangers down below at water's bottom, believe him, and avoid diving in. Bain did not concoct the facts. Anal sex, because of the peculiar mechanics involved, and the lack of creativity of God in not designing the anus for two-way traffic, is statistically the most efficient way of passing HIV from one person to another. This is irrespective of whether the penetrated is male or female. However, the dictates of common sense tell us that MSM have statistically more anal sex than heterosexuals.

Bain was terminated by the UWI because he gave truthful testimony in 2012 that anal sex is dangerous. How different is that from saying to cigarette-smokers, 'smoking kills'? I'm still trying to figure what he did wrong. All he said was that the published data do not support the hypothesis that decriminalising buggery would "lead to a reduction in the incidence ... of HIV ... among MSM." He didn't say the law shouldn't be repealed.

Some 33, or 35 - but I won't dispute over two - groups called for Bain's head. So ironic, because none of the spokespersons can match his work.

Indeed, some of those villainising him might be alive because of it. Nevertheless, since the funding for Bain's post-retirement position is connected with the approval of these groups, I believe that UWI had no choice but to play it safe and use its boots on Bain.

The loss of Bain is tragic, and treating this as an academic project, lots of persons get a failing 'F'.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.