Talha Burki writes in The Lancet Infectious Diseases:
Strange, perhaps, for The Lancet Infectious Diseases to review House of Numbers. It is a threadbare documentary that claims there is no connection between HIV and AIDS. It arrives at this conclusion through a toxic combination of misrepresentation and sophistry. At best, it is a misguided and misbegotten film; at worst, it is downright malevolent.
All of which makes a fine case for ignoring it. HIV/AIDS denialism is an ideology in disgrace; the ravings of what Stephen Lewis—former UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa—describes as a “lunatic fringe”. To debate House of Numbers is to attend the film with an honesty and dignity that is entirely alien to its nature. Far better to leave it mouldering in the clutches of cranks and conspiracy theorists.
by Seth Kalichman (Originally published in the New Humanist)
Imagine that you or someone you love just received an HIV positive test result. The news is devastating. After a short time you begin to face the diagnosis. You turn to the Internet for answers. Searching the words “AIDS diagnosis” brings up thousands of websites. A whirlwind of information spins your mind. One credible-looking website, Aids.org, reads: “There is no cure for AIDS. There are drugs that can slow down the HIV virus and slow down the damage to your immune system. There is no way to ‘clear’ HIV from the body. Other drugs can prevent or treat opportunistic infections (OIs). In most cases, these drugs work very well. The newer, stronger ARVs have also helped reduce the rates of most OIs. A few OIs, however, are still very difficult to treat.”
With a click of the mouse, an equally credible-looking site, Aliveandwell.org, asks: “Did you know … Many experts contend that AIDS is not a fatal, incurable condition caused by HIV? That most of the AIDS information we receive is based on unsubstantiated assumptions, unfounded estimates and improbable predictions? That the symptoms associated with AIDS are treatable using non-toxic, immune-enhancing therapies that have restored the health of people diagnosed with AIDS and that have enabled those truly at risk to remain well?”
Which do you trust? Which do you believe? Which would you want to believe? Would you choose to believe there may be hope offered by medical treatments or would you prefer to believe that HIV is harmless? This simple example illustrates the lure of AIDS denialism. Read more »
A website that is advertised via Google ads, is promoting alternative, unproven and untested medicines for the treatment of HIV. The website is http://www.hivsecrets.com. Upon registering with it, a report titled HIV Alternative Therapies Report is made freely available for download. This report is written by a Ms Shirley Wyand. Ms Wyand has no known expertise in the science of HIV/AIDS.
The report is replete with misconceptions. For example, it states, "Since Western medical science offers no cure and few treatments for AIDS, people living with HIV are open to other options, and a tradition of gathering and sharing treatment information already exists." On the contrary, antiretroviral treatment is a very effective chronic treatment for HIV. There are also many effective medicines that treat AIDS-related opportunistic infections. There are no alternative treatments for HIV that have been shown to be effective. Indeed, once a medicine is shown to be effective it is no longer an alternative one.
Another example of the report's misconceptions is that it promotes an untested product called Revivo tea. This products advertisements touting its efficacy for the treatment of HIV have recently been banned in South Africa by that country's Advertising Standards Authority. Read more »
The World Health Organization's report Women and health: today's evidence, tomorrow's agenda identifies HIV/AIDS as the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age: "Globally, the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age is HIV/ AIDS. Girls and women are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection due to a combination of biological factors and gender-based inequalities, particularly in cultures that limit women’s knowledge about HIV and their ability to protect themselves and negotiate safer sex."
Here is an extract from the report:
This section is copied without footnotes or graphs. To download the full report, see below.
Women and HIV/AIDS
Globally, HIV is the leading cause of death and disease in women of reproductive age. Of the 30.8 million adults living with HIV in 2007,a 15.5 million were women. The prevalence of HIV infection in women has increased since the early 1990s and is most marked in sub-Saharan Africa.
Total number of people living with HIV/AIDS in 2007 was 33 million, including two million children younger than 15 years.
Southern Africa is most affected; in 2005–2006, median HIV prevalence among pregnant women attending antenatal care was above 15% in eight Southern African countries. Infection was acquired primarily through heterosexual transmission.
South African health minister reveals "shocking" AIDS figures; blames Mbeki denialism for worsening the crisis
South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper reports:
"In 11 years -- from 1997 to 2008 -- the rate of death has doubled in South Africa. That is obviously something that cannot but worry a person," Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told reporters at Parliament in Cape Town.
He said that in 1997 the total number of deaths stood about 300 000. Last year the figure was 756 000.
Motsoaledi said the figures called for a "massive change in behaviour and attitude" toward Aids among South Africans.
"On the figures, it's shocking. As to whether it has been affected by what we did in the past 10 years, to me that's obvious," he said, according to the South African Press Association.
The South African government under former President Mbeki and former Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, pursued an AIDS denialist ideology that was responsible for at least 300,000 premature deaths and tens of thousands of preventable HIV infections. [1-2] Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang were the main protagonists in this crime against humanity. But there were several politicians and civil servants whose actions and inactions helped extensively. Anthony Mbewu was one of them. An appointment to a top position in Geneva hardly seems appropriate for someone with his questionable track record. This included misrepresenting the relative importance of HIV as a cause of death, supporting the vitamin salesman Matthias Rath, playing down the known benefits of antiretroviral treatment, promoting absurd conspiratorialist thinking and over-promoting multi-vitamins and traditional medicine as potential responses to AIDS.
Matthias Rath, with the support of Tshabalala-Msimang, conducted unauthorised experiments on people with HIV, imported and distributed his products unlawfully and claimed multivitamins alone reversed the course of AIDS, in contrast to antiretrovirals which he claimed were toxic. Anthony Mbewu helped establish Rath's presence in South Africa. Read more »
by Jeanne Bergman
The lynchpin of Brent Leung’s argument in “House of Numbers” that HIV does not cause AIDS is the headline of a 2007 article on ScienceDaily.com that read, “Sudden Loss Of T Cells Is Not Trigger For AIDS, New Study Suggests.”  The screen shows the article’s headline and first paragraphs for 12 seconds (a very long time in “House of Numbers”), while Leung, in a voice-over, intones, “In late 2007, ScienceDaily reported that three prominent research teams had published papers in the Journal of Immunology, challenging the theory that the sudden loss of T-cells triggers disease and AIDS.” Since T cell destruction is understood to be the primary mechanism by which HIV destroys the immune system, this seems to seriously challenge the HIV/AIDS paradigm. Read more »
"House of Numbers" offers new information about the late Christine Maggiore's experience with HIV testing. In the movie, her oral narrative and the dated lab reports on screen simply don't line up. What the film clearly shows by including the lab work is that Maggiore was HIV infected, and the reports suggest that her immune system controlled the virus well for some time. Commentary are placed in the blocks.
Christine Maggiore: “In 1992, I was encouraged by a doctor to take what’s called an HIV test as a mater of social responsibility, and I was shocked and devastated and horrified when the results came back positive. It was one of those moments that everyone fears their whole life. A week later, I take the same test to an AIDS specialist. He looks and says, this isn’t a positive test. I don’t know what this test means.”
The screen shows a lab report from Patricia O’Connell, NP, for Christine Maggiore, dated 02/24/92. Resolution is not good, but it looks like two bands—P24 and P120/160—of a Western Blot were reactive, the rest non-reactive. This VERY clearly is a positive test. The test interpretation instructions are below and she has a positive WB according to this test’s criteria (p24 and gp120).
Yesterday, President Jacob Zuma made one of the most important speeches in the history of AIDS in South Africa. In front of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), he unequivocally acknowledged the devastation of AIDS on our country. With this speech state-supported AIDS denialism has been banished. The Treatment Action Campaign welcomes the ushering in of this new era, almost exactly ten years since former President Mbeki made a speech that began the era of state-supported denial in front of the NCOP.
Joe Sonnabend writes in his POZ blog:
House of Numbers is the title of a documentary film which according to its promotional material will "rock the foundations on which all conventional wisdom on HIV/AIDS is based"
I have seen the film. It is completely unable to achieve this grandiose objective. It is in fact an AIDS denialist film, despite the contention to the contrary by Brent Leung who made it.
The denialists are a disparate group who remarkably continue to believe that HIV cannot be the causative agent of AIDS either because it is harmless or because it does not exist. There are even those who believe that AIDS itself does not exist as a distinct disease entity. Of course there is no shortage of people with strange views that fly in the face of solid evidence. We can mostly just ignore them. But sometimes these views can be dangerous, and then we really do have to confront and challenge fallacious assertions that can lead to harm.
In this article prominent South African AIDS researcher, Prof Salim S. Abdool Karim, calls for a truth commission to account for South Africa's past HIV/AIDS denialist policies and rebuild trust:
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of the greatest challenges facing post-democracy South Africa. In 2007, the country, which is home to less than one per cent of the world's population, carried 17 per cent of the global burden of HIV infection — and the virus continues to spread relentlessly.
The government's response to the epidemic during the last decade has contributed to this disproportionate burden. It not only questioned the reliability of HIV testing, the safety and efficacy of antiretroviral drugs and the accuracy of statistics on AIDS-related morbidity and mortality, but also the very premise that HIV causes AIDS.
Deliberate attempts were made to undermine scientific evidence as the basis for action and to place politics at odds with science. President Thabo Mbeki's AIDS Advisory Panel, set up in 2000, marked a low point in the government's relationship with scientists when he asked AIDS scientists to engage AIDS 'denialists' in a debate for political adjudication.
AIDSTruth contributor Nicoli Nattrass and Seth Kalichmann, author of Denying AIDS were among the scientists and activists who participated in Harvard University's symposium on AIDS Denial. The Harvard Gazette reports:
People who deny that the HIV virus causes AIDS continue to persist in their beliefs despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, nurtured by the broad reach of the Internet and cherry-picked scientific claims, AIDS authorities said Monday (Oct. 19).
Researchers from Harvard, elsewhere in the United States, and South Africa convened at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts to decry HIV “denialism,” saying that the continued questioning of HIV’s role in AIDS harms those infected with the virus by discouraging both testing and treatment.
According to the speakers, denialism takes two major forms. Some skeptics deny that HIV plays a role in AIDS, or that it even exists, while others believe in AIDS conspiracies, acknowledging that HIV causes AIDS but questioning HIV’s origins, saying it results from a government conspiracy, is intended as a genocide campaign against blacks, that it was created in CIA labs, or is of other sinister origin or purpose.
Update: Now Neville Hodgkinson writes in The Spectator "on a new film that challenges the tenets of the Aids religion and exposes the dangerous confusion at the heart of the industry".
New Statesman's Mehdi Hassan writes:
I have blogged before on the new Spectator editor Fraser Nelson's crude denialism of climate change and his failure to engage with the peer-reviewed scientific literature. I see he has now turned his attention to questioning the link between HIV and Aids, in his Coffee House blog post "Questioning the Aids consensus". Here is how he puts it:
Ben Goldacre writes in The Guardian:
A lot of strange stuff can fly in under the claim that you are "simply starting a debate". You may remember the Aids denialist documentary House of Numbers from three weeks ago. Since then, it has received many glowing outings. The London Raindance film festival explained that they were proud to show it, and a senior programmer appeared on YouTube saying they had gone through the film at 15-second intervals, finding no inaccuracies at all.
This is pretty good for a film which suggests that HIV doesn't cause Aids, but antiretroviral drugs, or poverty, or drug use do, or HIV probably doesn't exist, diagnostic tools don't work, and Aids is simply a spurious basket diagnosis invented to sell antiretroviral medication for a wide range of unrelated problems, and the treatments don't work either.
Newsweek Exposes Duesberg’s Psychopathology
by Jeanne Bergman for AIDStruth.org
"The whole dissident idea attracts a lot of crazies. And then all of a sudden, without realizing it, you've become one of them."
Newsweek this week published a strange and very revealing profile of the HIV über-denialist Peter Duesberg by Jeneen Interlandi (“The World’s Most Reviled Genius: Can the Scientist Who Denies the Cause of AIDS Be Trusted to Cure Cancer?” Oct. 19, 2009, pp. 44-48). The article asks if Duesberg’s aneuploidy theory of cancer may have some real promise that is being ignored because he has completely destroyed any scientific credibility he ever had by refusing to acknowledge that he was wrong about HIV and AIDS. (The short answer to this question is simply: no. Aneuploidy isn’t being ignored, much better scientists than Duesberg are working on it, and it is unlikely to be the key to the cause or cure of cancers. ) More significantly, the piece reveals a lot about the character and pathology of the man behind the denialist movement.
Interlandi describes how Duesberg has “toiled in scientific purgatory” at Berkeley. An embarrassment to the University, he has been relegated to a crummy little lab in a shabby building, with no grant funding, no promising graduate students, and no respect from anyone—including other cancer researchers working on aneuploidy. He is no longer allowed to teach. Duesberg clearly understands that this follows from his failed theory that HIV is harmless. Interlandi identifies in him a core conflict between two equally disturbing character traits: “he craves a return to respectability, [and] he refuses to cede any ground to his adversaries.” (See AIDStruth’s article about his malignant narcissism.) But Duesberg seems unable to grasp that the contempt is the result of his refusal to accept the conclusive scientific evidence that HIV is the cause of AIDS, and of his persistent proselytizing of his disproven claims about HIV, AIDS and antiretrovirals, which has caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, particularly in South Africa. Read more »
Jennifer Steinhauer writes in the New York Times:
People who do not believe in vaccinating children have never had much sway over Leslie Wygant Arndt. She has studied the vaccine debate, she said, and came out in favor of having her 10-month-old daughter inoculated against childhood diseases. But there is something different about the vaccine for the H1N1 flu, she said.
“I have looked at the people who are against it, and I find myself taking their side,” said Ms. Wygant Arndt, who lives in Portland, Ore. “But then again I go back and forth on this every day. It’s an emotional topic.”
Anti-vaccinators, as they are often referred to by scientists and doctors, have toiled for years on the margins of medicine. But an assemblage of factors around the swine flu vaccine — including confusion over how it was made, widespread speculation about whether it might be more dangerous than the virus itself, and complaints among some health care workers in New York about a requirement that they be vaccinated — is giving the anti-vaccine movement a fresh airing, according to health experts.
Seth Kalichman's Denying AIDS is reviewed by Talha Burki in the latest issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Seth Kalichman, Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy, Copernicus Books (2009) ISBN 978-0-387-79475-4 Pp 205. £13.99..
Ben Goldacre writes in his Bad Science column for The Guardian:
This week, listening to the Guardian science podcast, I had a treat. Caspar Melville, editor of New Humanist magazine, leader of something called the Rationalist Association, had been to see two films at the Cambridge film festival. One was a dreary creationist movie that famously misrepresented the biologists interviewed for it. This was obvious bad science, he explained. But the other was different: House of Numbers, a new film about Aids, really had something in it.
I have now seen this film. It presents itself as a naive journey by one young film-maker to discover the science behind HIV. In reality, it's a dreary and pernicious piece of Aids denialist propaganda.
All the usual ideas are there. It's antiretroviral drugs themselves that are the cause of symptoms called Aids. Or it's poverty. Or it's drug use. HIV doesn't cause Aids. Diagnostic tools don't work, Aids is simply a spurious basket diagnosis invented to sell antiretroviral medication for a wide range of unrelated problems – and the drugs don't work either.
It would take two months of columns to address all the bogus claims of this film, and that blizzard, perhaps, is the point of making it, with all the classic rhetorical devices that have been honed by Aids denialists and creationists over decades. It engages, for example, in repeated overstatement of marginal internal disagreements about the details of HIV research, to the extent that 18 doctors and scientists interviewed for the film have issued a statement saying that the director was "deceptive" in his interactions with them, that it perpetuates pseudoscience and myths, and that they were selectively quoted to make it seem as if they are in disagreement and disarray, when in fact they agree on all the important facts.
The last holdover of the Mbeki/Tshabalala-Msimang era of state-supported AIDS denialism in South Africa, Director-General of Health Thami Mseleku, has been dismissed.
18.09.2009 Anso Thom
text Health department Director General Thami Mseleku, a destructive leftover from former health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s reign, will leave the end of the month, with the Western Cape’s Director-General for Health Professor Craig Househam set to step in.
Unconfirmed reports of Mseleku’s departure and Househam’s appointment have been doing the rounds for several days and have been confirmed by several sources, some within the national health department.
Fidel Hadebe, spokesperson for health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has declined to comment while Househam denied, via his spokesperson Faiza Steyn, that he had been approached.
Dr Francois Venter, president of the Southern African HIV Clincians Society said he had also heard the rumours that Mseleku was on his way out.
What are the causes of AIDS denialism? What are the factors that lead to a loss of public confidence in medical science? Often on aidstruth.org we have focused on debunking the false propaganda of prominent AIDS denialists, but there are other very important causes of people with chronic illnesses choosing to forsake scientifically based medical advice. A crucial one is the often substandard quality of care people receive from their medical practitioners. In the United States, tens of millions of uninsured and under-insured people experience the health system as uncaring and unproviding. In South Africa, where AIDS denialism had its worst effects, a study by Jane Goudge and colleagues at the Centre for Health Policy on the University of Witwatersrand found that "Poor provider-patient interaction led to inadequate understanding of illness, inappropriate treatment action, 'healer shopping', and at times a break down in cooperation, with the patient 'giving up' on the public health system." Healer shopping, or perhaps more appropriately quack shopping, is a consequence of poor health services characterised by disrespectful behaviour from overworked health staff, long waiting lists, queues, and the unavailability of essential medicines and diagnostics. Read more »