No, Greeks are not giving themselves HIV to get welfare benefits during a time of severe austerity, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed Tuesday.
Reports circulated in the media, in outlets such as Fox News, the Daily Caller, Sky News, and Al Jazeera, that Greeks were deliberately infecting themselves with the virus to be eligible for a government handout of 700 euros a month (around $950).
They sourced an ill-written paragraph in a report by the United Nations' health agency from Oct. 30 that seemed to make the claim that half of all new HIV infections were self-inflicted.
The paragraph 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 euros per month and faster admission on to drug substitution programmes."
This is not true, either way you read it. Neither are half of the new HIV infections in Greece self-inflicted, nor are half of the new infections among drug users self-inflicted.
When asked by GlobalPost, the author of a report cited by the WHO in their case study said that the figure was incorrect:
@lebesant No. According to the cited report, self-infections would have been a small fraction of the new infections among drug users in 2011
— Alex Kentikelenis (@Kentikelenis) November 26, 2013
The WHO apologized for the error on Tuesday and issued a correction.
In a statement they wrote: "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."
"WHO recognizes that there is no evidence suggesting that deliberate self-infection with HIV goes beyond a few anecdotal cases," WHO said.
The original WHO report was created by the Institute of Health Equity at University College London.
Before the correction, the media wrote blaring headlines claiming that Greeks had infected themselves with HIV to get welfare.
Here's an example:
— Damian Mac Con Uladh (@damomac) November 26, 2013
The watchdog website Media Matters was quick to criticize the claims, particularly by right-wing pundit Rush Limbaugh, who claimed on his radio program that the report showed the flaws of the welfare system