At its February meeting, the US President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) passed a resolution calling on the federal government to take a leadership role in eliminating the criminalization of HIV in the U.S. Many scientists and civil society groupings (such as the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance) have long opposed harmful and counterproductive laws that criminalize HIV in the U.S. and elsewhere.
This resolution represents a significant step towards eliminating such laws. Read more about the campaign to end criminalisation of HIV.
Video: Nicoli Nattrass in conversation with Nathan Geffen about her new book "The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back"
The video below is of AIDSTruth contributors Nicoli Nattrass and Nathan Geffen in conversation at the launch of Prof Nattrass's book "The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back". It was recorded on Wednesday 30 May 2012 at The Book Lounge in Cape Town. Video courtesy of the Centre for Social Science Research.
AIDSTruth contributor Prof Nicoli Nattrass (director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit at the University of Cape Town) has written a new book The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, published by Columbia University Press. In the book, she explores conspiracy theories on the origins of AIDS (such as that it was manufactured by the US government), their surprising longevity, the campaigns by scientists to correct misinformation and the consequences of these myths for behaviour.
There is a substantial body of evidence showing that HIV causes AIDS—and that antiretroviral treatment (ART) has turned the viral infection from a death sentence into a chronic disease.1 Yet a small group of AIDS denialists keeps alive the conspiratorial argument that ART is harmful and that HIV science has been corrupted by commercial interests. Unfortunately, AIDS denialists have had a disproportionate effect on efforts to stem the AIDS epidemic. In 2000, South African President Thabo Mbeki took these claims seriously, opting to debate the issue, thus delaying the introduction of ART into the South African public health sector. At least 330,000 South Africans died unnecessarily as a result.2,3
The “hero scientist” of AIDS denialism, University of California, Berkeley, virologist Peter Duesberg, argues that HIV is a harmless passenger virus and that ART is toxic, even a cause of AIDS. He has done no clinical research on HIV and ignores the many rebuttals of his claims in the scientific literature.4,5 As I describe in my new book, The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, this has prompted further direct action against Duesberg by the pro-science community.
Brian Deer writes in The Guardian:
Karri Stokely is a poster girl for a different way to look at health. After receiving an Aids diagnosis in 1996, at the age of 29, she was treated for 11 years with a cocktail of drugs. But then she saw an internet video saying that HIV was a hoax, stopped taking her medicines – and felt terrific.
"I'm not getting any answers from the mainstream as to why I'm healthy, and why my husband is negative, and why I can quit these drugs," she explains in her own video, which is currently being promoted online. "I think it's a crime. It's crimes against humanity."
Her doctor was aghast – HIV treatment is for life. "He looked me right in the eyes and said: 'You have done a very stupid thing, and you will be dead very soon,'" Stokely recalls. "My response to him was: 'That's funny, because right now I'm feeling pretty good.'"
That was in April 2007. She died four years later, so her comments are a postcard from the past. "Karri Stokely passed away on April 27th 2011," explains a website run by London journalist Joan Shenton. "She said she wouldn't go quietly so we are keeping her moving interview below on our homepage."
But Stokely's path (via pneumonia) was already well trodden. Dying in denial is a phenomenon.
New research finds no evidence of increased risk of all-cause and non-AIDS death with long-term ARV use
An important study has been published in AIDS that provides further evidence debunking one of the main claims of AIDS denialists, namely that ARVs do more harm than good (or even cause AIDS).
AIDS. 2012 Jan 28;26(3):315-323.
Long-term exposure to combination antiretroviral therapy and risk of death from specific causes: no evidence for any previously unidentified increased risk due to antiretroviral therapy.
Kowalska JD, Reekie J, Mocroft A, Reiss P, Ledergerber B, Gatell J, d'Arminio Monforte A, Phillips A, Lundgren JD, Kirk O; for the EuroSIDA study group.
Despite the known substantial benefits of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), cumulative adverse effects could still limit the overall long-term treatment benefit. Therefore we investigated changes in the rate of death with increasing exposure to cART.
A total of 12 069 patients were followed from baseline, which was defined as the time of starting cART or enrolment into EuroSIDA whichever occurred later, until death or 6 months after last follow-up visit. Incidence rates of death were calculated per 1000 person-years of follow-up (PYFU) and stratified by time of exposure to cART (≥3 antiretrovirals): less than 2, 2-3.99, 4-5.99, 6-7.99 and more than 8 years. Duration of cART exposure was the cumulative time actually receiving cART. Read more »
By Nathan Geffen
The obscure Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology has published an article by AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg packed with errors. It claims that data from Uganda and South Africa shows that there is no evidence of an HIV epidemic. This journal, whose title indicates no expertise in HIV, has a track record of publishing peer-reviewed AIDS denialist nonsense.
The article will have no influence on medical science. Nor is it likely to influence the South African government; the days of state-supported AIDS denialism are gone. Nevertheless its publication and the subsequent unnecessary publicity it received in the world's leading science journal, Nature, provide a good opportunity to explain how we do know there is a massive HIV epidemic in South Africa.
The two main arguments Duesberg et al. offer are that (1) the population has increased by 20 million in the past three decades and (2) mortality reports released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) show relatively few AIDS deaths.
The first argument, that the population has increased, can be swiftly dealt with. Read more »
Zambian AIDS activist Winstone Zulu died on 12 October 2011. Zulu was for a time taken in by Thabo Mbeki's AIDS denialism -- and nearly died as a result -- but became a tireless campaigner against denialism and for people living with HIV/AIDS after antiretrovirals restored his health. Below is the Treatment Action Campaign's tribute to Zulu. Also see the Treatment Action Group's statement.
He was a brave AIDS activist who rebelled against Thabo Mbeki's AIDS denialism
14 October 2011
Winstone Zulu, the first Zambian to live openly with HIV and an outspoken proponent for the rights of people with HIV and TB, died on 12 October 2011. The Treatment Action Group (not to be confused with us, the Treatment Action Campaign) has written a moving tribute to Winstone: http://www.treatmentactiongroup.org/winstone-zulu 
We express our condolences to Winstone's family and friends.
Winstone was a leading figure in the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS (NZP+) and one of the founders of the Pan African Treatment Access Movement.
We wish to pay tribute to Winstone by recalling his struggle with and against AIDS denialism. Winstone was open about his HIV status from the early 90s. In 1997 he started taking antiretroviral treatment.
South African study provides additional evidence that AIDS conspiracy theories are associated with risky sex
A study by two AIDSTruth contributors, Nicoli Nattrass and Eduard Grebe, has shown that belief in AIDS origin conspiracy theories like those promoted by AIDS denialists are associated with lower rates of condom usage among young adults. In addition, the study showed that young adults who trusted the denialist South African health minister (Manto Tshabalala-Msimang) more than her non-denialist successor were substantially more likely to believe conspiracy theories, while those who were not familiar with the denialiam-fighting activist group the Treatment Action Campaign were more likely to believe conspiracy theories and less likely to use a condom than those who were. This study adds to the evidence that state-supported denialism likely resulted (and continue to result) in unnecessary HIV infections in South Africa. Readers without subscriptions can access a preprint of the article. AIDS Behav. 2011 May 3. [Epub ahead of print]
AIDS Conspiracy Beliefs and Unsafe Sex in Cape Town
Grebe E, Nattrass N. Read more »
by Phillip L. Murphy
This note first appeared on a Facebook page. It is republished here with the author's permission.
After speaking with Shannon, we decided it would be beneficial to those interested in Kim's history to hear my own personal story.
I was diagnosed with HIV in the fall of 1984. It was my final year of undergraduate work at KU, and i was deciding whether to attend medical school. after receiving the news in a very seedy sedgwick county health department office, I was terrified, horrified and in shock. I had been in a monogomous relationship with a man for almost a year. He began to hear rumors that a man he had dated previously was "sick". After his test results came back positive, it was my turn. Neither of us knew what to do or where to turn. In those days there was talk of quaranteening the infected in asylums or deserted islands. We were a pariahs, angels of death. From that moment on we couldn't plan for our futures or make decisions beyond what was for dinner because we expected to drop dead at any moment. That is what was happening to those in our situation. Read more »
Mortality by baseline CD4 cell count among HIV patients initiating antiretroviral therapy: evidence from a large cohort in Uganda
Mills EJ, Bakanda C, Birungi J, Mwesigwa R, Chan K, Ford N, Hogg RS, Cooper C.
aFaculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada bThe AIDS Support Organization (TASO), Headquarters, Kampala, Uganda cBritish Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, Canada dMédecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), Geneva, Switzerland eDivision of Infectious Diseases, The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Canada.
OBJECTIVE: Evaluations of CD4 cell count and other prognostic factors on the survival of HIV patients in sub-Saharan are extremely limited. Funders have been reticent to recommend earlier initiation of treatment. We aimed to examine the effect of baseline CD4 cell count on mortality using data from HIV patients receiving combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) in Uganda.
DESIGN: Observational study of patients age ≥14 years) enrolled in 10 clinics across Uganda for which TASO has data.
METHODS: CD4 cell count was stratified into categories (<50, 50-99, 100-149, 150-199, 200-249, 250-299, ≥300 cells/mm) and Cox proportional hazards regression was used to model the associations between CD4 cell count and mortality. Read more »
In the wake of HIV-positive boxer Terry Morrison's bid to fight in Quebec, the Montreal Gazette published a highly inaccurate and irresponsible piece by Terry Michael, a well-known AIDS denialist. It is clear that denialists are attempting to exploit Morrison's tragedy for propaganda purposes. While it is usually not a good idea to 'debate' denialists, it was important to counter the misinformation spread in a prominent newspaper. Two articles by scientists set the record straight and warned Gazette readers about the dangers of AIDS denialism:
- HIV denial is fatal – Norbert Gilmore (McGill University)
- HIV denialism has taken too many lives – Ken Witwer (Johns Hopkins University) and Seth Kalichman (University of Connecticut)
Witwer and Kalichman's piece is embedded below.
What we know about AIDS explains the essential science of HIV succinctly and clearly. It was originally published as a chapter in Debunking Delusions by Nathan Geffen. With the permission of the author, Nathan Geffen, and the book's publisher, Jacana, we are now releasing this chapter under the Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license. Please feel free to copy and distribute it. You are also allowed to modify it under the terms of the license. Debunking Delusions can be purchased online from amazon.com and kalahari.net.
Denialists frequently cite the well-known phenomenon of some individuals with HIV living healthily for long periods without treatment as evidence that HIV does not cause AIDS. However, the existence of these rare individuals do not in fact disprove the science on HIV/AIDS. We debunked that myth here. Also, despite denialist claims to the contrary, research on how these individuals' immune systems control HIV for longer than usual has in fact been a priority and several studies have shed light on the mechanisms involved. A new study has now found slight differences in five amino acids in the HLA-B protein between long-term non-progressors and people who do not control HIV for longer than normal.
You can read a Reuters report on the study here.
These two videos from AIDSVideos.org do a good job debunking some of the myths about HIV tests and about HIV/AIDS.
Beverly Patterson Steams writes on SciDevNet:
Poor countries striving to improve their health systems deserve better than the unexplained implosion of the Global Forum for Health Research, argues Beverly Peterson Stearns.
Barely a year ago nearly 1,000 people from 80 countries gathered enthusiastically at the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana, Cuba, under the banner 'Innovating for the health of all'. More than half came from low- and middle-income countries. They were attending the annual meeting of the non-profit organisation the Global Forum for Health Research (GFHR), eager to hear about inventive and effective ways to conduct research, and urgently seeking to improve health in their countries.
Now, less than a year after taking office, the forum's executive director, Anthony Mbewu, has resigned, and the forum itself is in failing health. The prognosis is poor. Very few remain in its Geneva secretariat. Many employees have quit, been fired, or have retired early.
A large number of organisations and individuals have signed this letter to the WBAI management asking them to reverse a decision to restore s[email protected].Gary Null's show to WBAI radio. You can sign on by emailing
To: Tony Bates, Interim Program Director
Berthold Reimers, Interim General Manager
Mitchel Cohen, Local Station Board Chair
Arlene Englehardt, Pacifica National Board and Executive Director
To whom it concerns:
We are writing as individuals and organizations who are deeply distressed by WBAI's recent restoration of supplement-entrepreneur Gary Null to the airwaves of WBAI Radio five days a week.
We are gravely concerned about this prospect and the consequences for people at risk of and living with HIV. Mr. Null and his frequent radio guests support the notions, among others, that HIV does not play a role in causing AIDS; that the disease is not transmitted sexually or via dirty needles; that HIV tests are meaningless; and that antiretroviral drugs are not only poisonous but can actually cause AIDS. Legitimate concerns and grievances about the pharmaceutical industry are eclipsed and diminished by this life-threatening stance.
The spread of false claims about HIV and AIDS is deadly, and particularly harms the poor communities of color most devastated by HIV/AIDS. Disinformation about HIV has caused the unnecessary suffering and death of an estimated 300,000 men, women and children (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/26/aids-south-africa ).
Both the existence of HIV and its role in the causation of AIDS has been amply demonstrated (see, e.g., www.aidstruth.org). Among the destructive effect of spreading these falsehoods is to reduce condom use, increase infection risk and dissuade people from the use of life-saving antiretroviral therapy (among other modalities).
We respect the station's longstanding free-speech tradition, and support open debate on critical public health issues. We also deeply appreciate the fiscal difficulties facing WBAI and the Pacifica network. However, the notion that WBAI's survival is dependent on relying on Mr. Null while spreading a message of death is antithetical to the mission of the station and of the Pacifica Network to which it belongs.
We call on WBAI management to immediately reverse its decision to add Mr. Null's program to its schedule.
This opinion piece by Kerry Cullinan appeared on the Health-e News Service:
OPINION: Doctors call them Thabo’s children – the thousands of kids infected with HIV by their mothers at birth who still fill hospital paediatric wards, suffering from a range of debilitating infections.
When many of them were born, they did not get antiretroviral medication that could have prevented their mothers from passing HIV on to them. This was because then-president Thabo Mbeki had decided that ARVs were “toxic” and somehow less desirable than a fatal, incurable virus.
But by 2000, at the height of Mbeki’s AIDS debating society, four independent studies had shown that two ARVs, AZT and nevirapine, could cut HIV transmission from mothers to babies by up to 50%.
Also by 2000, research showed a radical change in the death patterns of South Africans with a peak in young women and men, rather than the elderly, that could only be explained by AIDS.
It is well documented that some 330,000 people died under Mbeki’s watch because his government delayed the introduction of ARVs.
What is less known is that Mbeki’s refusal to accept that AIDS was caused by a viral infection caused his government to under-fund health services at the very time that hospitals were starting to see a surge in AIDS patients. They closed nurses’ training colleges and flat-lined health budgets to save money, hastening the collapse of health services that we see today.
Yet in a series of articles published in Independent newspapers countrywide recently, Mbeki’s loyal director general, Frank Chikane, has tried to portray his former boss as a deep thinker who took a principled stance after thorough research. Read more »
by Nathan Geffen, 28 August 2010
This is a corrected version of a position argued by the author at a debate that took place at the University of Cape Town in August 2010 about traditional and scientific medicine. Geffen is the treasurer of the Treatment Action Campaign, but this paper presents his personal views only. He is also author of the book Debunking Denialism (Jacana 2010)
Scientists can be elitist and patronising. In that way, they are no different to any other people with power, including some traditional healers and including people who defend science, like myself.
There are multiple knowledge systems. Cultural diversity, including African culture, is a valuable treasure. Traditional medicine is used by people across the world. African traditional medicine, in particular, is used by millions of people across Africa. It is therefore important to build relationships with traditional healers to ensure that their patients receive appropriate care. Many organisations, such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), attempt to do this, with varying degrees of success.
However, In critiques of medicine and, on the other hand, efforts to accommodate traditional healing, humanities researchers sometimes stand accused of being relativist, i.e. promoting or implying multiple incompatible positions as being true or valid. They also sometimes stand accused of being less than forthright about the problems with traditional healing. With this in mind, I present seven frank points which I hope will inform this discussion. Read more »
By Jeanne Bergman, Ph.D.
Achieve, Spring 2010. Reprinted with permission from Achieve.
More is known about HIV than about any other virus. Less than three decades ago, doctors were perplexed by the appearance of Kaposi's sarcoma and Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in young gay men. Since then, scientists and doctors, spurred by the activism of people with AIDS, discovered the virus now called HIV and proved that it causes AIDS by crippling the immune system until the body can no longer resist life-threatening infections.
Scientists around the world have isolated HIV, photographed it with electron microscopes, and sequenced the genomes of its different subtypes. There are now highly accurate tests for HIV antibodies and the virus itself, and increasingly effective and tolerable antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for its treatment. Science is a gradual process, and there is still much that is not fully understood about HIV, but the evidence that HIV exists, is transmissible by blood, semen, and vaginal fluids -- and that it causes AIDS -- is vast and thorough. Read more »