was the title of a history book I had as a boy.  Good things, in their way — without them, I wouldn’t be able to sit here talking to you all and meeting some very interesting people online.  But some decidedly unpleasant customers do all too often hitch a ride.

One of these is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and recent research has shown that not only has it used triple-T to make its way around the world (as we all know), but most likely it arose in its present form as a result of the worldwide development of railways.  Followers of Real Clear Science will have been directed to this article on the BBC website:

BBC News - Aids: Origin of pandemic ‘was 1920s Kinshasa’

where the source seems to be firmly fixed on the development of railways in what was then the Belgian Congo.  Referring to the magazine in which it is published, we find:

The early spread and epidemic ignition of HIV-1 in human populations

which tells us the researchers also note that 13 documented cases exist of different simian viruses jumping from chimpanzees, gorillas, and monkeys into humans, but only one — known has HIV-1 group M — sparked a global epidemic. They show that group M and another strain, group O, expanded at the same rate until about 1960, but then group M nearly tripled its rate of spread.

So there was more than one pandemic.  But what happened in 1960, so that only group M took off?  In the conclusion to the paper itself, we read

Our results are consistent with hypotheses that iatrogenic interventions in Kinshasa and its surroundings and/or postindependence changes in sexual behavior were critical for the emergence of group M.

Rather bland, but notice that dreaded word iatrogenic.  In other words, disease or damage caused by medical intervention.  Further back, we read

the hypothesis that transmission rates of group M increased as a result of the administration of unsterilized injections at sexually transmitted disease clinics in the 1950s

And maybe not simply STD clinics.  I remember reading that even such things as vitamin supplements are often administered by injection in countries such as the Congo.  This is followed by

and/or subsequent changes in the nature of commercial sex work in Kinshasa from the early 1960s, which led to increased client numbers

Which bears out what I have heard from two sources.  One was a talk from someone who was working in Chad, where there had been a recent upsurge in oil or mineral extraction.  This resulted in a large influx of foreign workers, many from countries outside Africa.  This was leading to a great increase in the problem in question. 

The other was from the border between two African countries, Tanzania and Kenya, if I remember rightly.  Now both these countries were formerly part of the British Empire, and one legacy of British rule is a great propensity for paperwork (as the Germans found out in the British sector of the occupation of their country after World War 2.)  Lorries and their drivers were being held up for three days at a time at the border, waiting for the paperwork to be completed so they could cross.  This could easily have been reduced to one day.  The effect on disease transmission is all too easy to imagine.

There is a third thing that sprang to mind.  Our former Conservative politician Michael Portillo now spends his time making television programmes around railway journeys based on Bradshaw’s guides.  Mostly, these are within Britain, from a 19th century guide, but one series has been on the Continent of Europe.  Travelling westward from Hamburg, he visited The Hague with its 1913 Peace Palace set up by philanthropists led by Andrew Carnegie (oh, the irony!)  And then on to Brussels, capital of Belgium.  Unlike most European capitals, Brussels is a relative newcomer to the club, since Belgium itself was only formed as an outcome of the 1830 Revolution.  According to Wikipedia

The main cause of the Belgian Revolution was the domination of the Dutch over the economic, political, and social institutions of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (although at that time the Belgian population was larger than the Dutch).  Catholic bishops in the south had forbidden working for the new government.  This rule, originated in 1815 by Maurice-Jean de Broglie, the French nobleman who was bishop of Ghent, caused an under-representation of Southerners in government and the army. 

What might intrigue readers of Science 2.0 is that said bishop was an n-times great-uncle of Louis-Victor-Pierre-Raymond, 7th duc de Broglie, better known simply Louis de Broglie who in his 1924 PhD thesis proposed the wave–particle duality of matter.

Back to Michael Portillo’s railway journey.  Apparently, Brussels was quite a small place, but what caused its expansion was the coming of the railway, which turned it into an important transport centre, and caused its population to increase dramatically.

Here is a map of the breakup of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.  Part 5 has survived as the independent Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a small country from which, when I was a boy one could, on a wavelength of 208 metres, receive English-language broadcasts not under the regulation of the all-powerful BBC. 

100 years before that, in 1859, the first cross-border railway connected Luxembourg with the rest of Continental Europe.  In honour of the occasion, a patriotic song De Feierwon (the fire wagon, literally!) was written.  Its chorus goes:

Kommt hier aus Frankräich, Belgie, Preisen,
Mir wellen iech ons Hémecht weisen,
Frot dir no alle Säiten hin,
Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin.

Come here from France, Belgium, Prussia,
we want to show you our fatherland
ask in all directions,
We want to remain what we are.

Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin (We want to remain what we are) has become the national motto of Luxembourg, but it could well serve as the motto for peoples all over the world who do not want to be assimilated into the Borg of the Day, which seems to be an increasing possibility all over the globe.