World Health Organisation Wrongly Claims Greek People Are Deliberately Giving Themselves HIV, Blames “Typo”

Quite possibly the worst typo ever.

1. The news today is full of the shocking claim that half of new HIV cases in Greece were from people deliberately contracting the disease in order to claim benefits:

2. This fact came from a report published by the World Health Organisation, the UN’s public health arm.

The full report, prepared by a team from University College London, can be found here. The claim about Greek HIV is on page 112.

4. In a statement just released, the WHO says:


In September 2013, the WHO Regional Office for Europe published a report “Review of social determinants and the health divide in the WHO European Region” which was prepared by the Institute of Equity, University College London, United Kingdom. In this report, an erroneous reference is made to: “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.”

The sentence should read: “half of the new HIV cases are self-injecting and out of them few are deliberately inflicting the virus”.

The statement is the consequence of an error in the editing of the document, for which WHO apologizes.

The statement doesn’t specify exactly how the “editing error” happened, though.

The WHO say the claim was originally sourced to a reference to “accounts of deliberate self-infection by a few individuals”, in this correspondence published by The Lancet. That in turn references this report, which describes self-infection as a “well-founded suspicion” about “some problem users”.

(HIV infections in Greece dramatically increased beginning in late 2010 - there was a 52% rise in new infections between 2010 and 2011, from 605 new cases to an estimated 922.)

7. So a “suspicion” about “a few individuals” somehow got turned into a fact about “half of new HIV infections”. Good thing it didn’t spread far and wide before they… oh.

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