The title of this book refers to the Congo River of Africa. This great river became famous in Western minds in the 1800s with the journeys of Dr. Livingstone. Later, it would be the setting of The Heart of Darkness. Doctors and scientists in the heart of darkness indeed as The River explains in its long, well-documented, exhaustive tale of secretive, unregulated medical research. This book's author interviews hundreds of individuals involved in this process, goes over countless documents, and from it, pieces together the following story.
After WWII there was a race to find a vaccine for polio that could be administered orally. Numerous groups of scientists from around the world took part in this race; the prize being fame, fortune, and patents galore. In public, these teams agreed to perform all their research in Western countries, document everything, and only conduct tests on adults who had signed written consent forms. In reality, many of these teams flocked to the Africa Congo to perform large-scale tests on unwitting and unknowing human populations, often without oversight by the press or medical institutions. These groups would inject various African primates with polio, extract serum from the infected primates, and using this serum to make experimental vaccines which would then be given to the local human populations.
This book contends that by this process, HIV was accidentally transmitted from certain monkeys into humans. The author provides numerous pieces of evidence in proof of this theory. First, the very same villages in the Congo where HIV was first discovered also happened to be the very same villages in which the polio tests were performed. Second, HIV was diagnosed in these villages 10 - 20 years after the polio tests were performed. Third, none of the other currently existing theories can explain how a primate virus passed into the human population, and spread so quickly, over a period of 4 decades, given that the two populations of monkeys and humans had coexisted in the same habitat since the dawn of man without any such transmission. Fourth, during public hearings in the 1950s, the various teams presented their oral vaccines to the world scientific community. One team found an unknown immunodeficiency virus in one of the samples provided by another team. Hmmm, an unknown immunodeficiency virus... sounds like HIV to me... Fifth, the scientists that conducted these trials in the Congo are unwilling to release their samples and scientific data for public scrutiny, even though all the patents and honors have already been distributed...
Overall, this is a very good book. Even if you do not believe the author's theory, I still highly recommend it for the author covers a lot of aspects of the medical field that one might not necessarily learn in school or in the newspapers. These include making and testing vaccines, animal testing, human testing, obtaining funding for medical research, scientific protocol, relationships between the medical community and governments, medical reporting, competition in the medical community, statistical sampling, and epidimiology.