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The AIDS reappraisal movement or AIDS dissident movement, also referred to as AIDS denialism, is a loosely connected group of individuals who dispute the scientific consensus that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Dissidents argue that the consensus that HIV causes AIDS has resulted in inaccurate diagnoses, psychological terror, toxic treatments, and a squandering of public funds, as well as an unprecedented deviation from scientific method and standards.
The scientific community considers the causative role of HIV to be substantiated by research; dissident arguments are considered by the scientific community to be the result of cherry-picking and misrepresentation of predominantly outdated scientific data, with the potential to endanger public health by dissuading people from utilizing proven treatments.
Additional recommended knowledge
The AIDS dissident community
People critical of the mainstream view of AIDS include HIV-positive persons, government employees, scientists, doctors, and activists in several countries.
Probably the most famous and influential AIDS dissident scientist is Peter Duesberg, professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been contesting the mainstream view of AIDS causation since 1987. Other scientists include David Rasnick (who worked with proteases and is co-holder of several patents on protease inhibitors similar to those used in the treatment of AIDS) and Rodney Richards (who worked at Amgen during the development of some of the first commercial HIV antibody tests). Nobel Prize winner Kary Mullis, inventor of PCR, has expressed sympathy for dissident theories.
Other notable AIDS dissidents include Australian academic Hiram Caton, journalist Celia Farber and activist Christine Maggiore. Nate Mendel, bassist with the rock band Foo Fighters, has expressed support for AIDS dissident ideas and organized a benefit concert in January 2000 for the AIDS dissident organization Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives.
Organizations of AIDS dissidents include the Perth Group and the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis.
Critics of the AIDS denialism movement question the qualifications of its proponents, including those with scientific credentials that have never worked with HIV. Nicoli Nattrass, writing in the Sept/Oct 2007 Skeptical Inquirer, points out that Peter Duesberg has never conducted any scientific research on HIV, and has never presented any evidence that support his claims to a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Nattrass also criticizes what she sees as a lack of understanding of the scientific process on the part of denialists, citing as an example Perth Group member Valendar Turner's testimony, in an Australian court case involving Andre Parenzee, that HIV had not been isolated because it had been identified only via the detection of reverse transcription, the process of writing RNA into DNA, which is not unique to retroviruses. Robert Gallo pointed out that HIV was identified as a retrovirus through the detection of reverse transcriptase, an enzyme unique to retroviruses, and not reverse transcription. Gallo also has criticized Valendar for having conducted no experiments on HIV, as Valendar is an expert in emergency medicine, not virology. Regarding the Perth Group, Gallo has expressed disbelief at the "mass ignorance coupled with the grandiosity of selling themselves as experts", commenting, "It would be like us arguing with Niels Bohr on quantum mechanics."
Several prominent scientists once associated with AIDS reappraisal have since changed their views and accepted the idea that HIV plays a role in causing AIDS, in response to an accumulation of newer studies and data. Robert Root-Bernstein, author of Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus and formerly a critic of the HIV/AIDS paradigm, has since distanced himself from the AIDS dissident movement, saying, "The denialists make claims that are clearly inconsistent with existing studies. When I check the existing studies, I don’t agree with the interpretation of the data, or, worse, I can’t find the studies [at all]."
Joseph Sonnabend, who until the late 1990s regarded the issue of AIDS causation as unresolved, has reconsidered in light of the success of newer antiretroviral drugs, stating, "The evidence now strongly supports a role for HIV... Drugs that can save your life can also under different circumstances kill you. This is a distinction that denialists do not seem to understand." Sonnabend has also criticized AIDS dissidents for falsely implying that he supports their position, saying:
Some individuals who believe that HIV plays no role at all in AIDS have implied that I support their misguided views on AIDS causation by including inappropriate references to me in their literature and on their web sites. Before HIV was discovered and its association with AIDS established, I held the entirely appropriate view that the cause of AIDS was then unknown. I have successfully treated hundreds of AIDS patients with antiretroviral medications, and have no doubt that HIV plays a necessary role in this disease.
Both Sonnabend and Root-Bernstein now favor a less controversial hypothesis, suggesting that cofactors in addition to HIV are necessary to cause AIDS.
Walter Gilbert, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, once expressed skepticism about the role of HIV in AIDS. Like Sonnabend, he has since changed his mind in response to the effectiveness of antiretroviral treatment.
Nonetheless, as of November 2006, some dissident websites continue to claim that Root-Bernstein, Sonnabend and Gilbert deny the role of HIV in AIDS.
Death of HIV-positive dissidents
In 2007, aidstruth.org, a website run by HIV researchers to counter dissident claims, published a partial list of AIDS dissidents who had died of apparently AIDS-related causes. For example, the magazine Continuum, run by HIV-positive dissidents, shut down when its editors all died of AIDS-related causes. It was noted that in every case, the AIDS dissident community has attributed the deaths to unknown causes, secret drug use, or stress.
Points of contention
Although members of the AIDS dissident community are united by their disagreement with the concept that HIV is the cause of AIDS, the specific positions taken by various groups differ.
Dissident arguments have centered around claims that HIV does not exist or has not been adequately isolated, that the virus does not fulfill Koch's postulates, that HIV testing is inaccurate, or that antibodies to HIV neutralize the virus and render it harmless. Suggested alternative causes of AIDS include recreational drugs, malnutrition and the very antiretroviral drugs used to treat the syndrome.
Such claims have been examined extensively in the peer-reviewed medical and scientific literature; a scientific consensus has arisen that dissident claims have been convincingly disproved, and that HIV does indeed cause AIDS. Accumulating evidence of the significant benefits of modern anti-HIV medication is seen as further confirmation of HIV's role in AIDS.
Impact beyond the scientific community
That HIV causes AIDS is widely regarded as proven in the scientific community. However, the AIDS dissident movement has had a significant impact outside of scientific spheres, making the debate a civil and political as well as a scientific and public health issue.
Impact in North America and Europe
Skepticism about HIV as the cause of AIDS began almost immediately after the discovery of HIV was announced. One of the earliest prominent skeptics was the journalist John Lauritsen, who argued in his writings for The New York Native that AIDS was in fact caused by amyl nitrite poppers, and that the government had conspired to hide the truth.
The publication of Peter Duesberg's first AIDS paper in 1987 fueled further support for dissident theories. Shortly afterwards, the journal Science reported that Duesberg's remarks had won him "a large amount of media attention, particularly in the gay press where he is something of a hero." However, Duesberg's support in the gay community dried up as he made a series of statements perceived as homophobic; in an interview with the Village Voice in 1988, Duesberg stated his belief that the AIDS epidemic was "caused by a lifestyle that was criminal twenty years ago."
In the following few years, others became skeptical of the HIV theory as researchers initially failed to produce an effective treatment or vaccine for AIDS. Journalists such as Neville Hodgkinson and Celia Farber regularly promoted dissident ideas in the American and British media; several television documentaries were also produced to increase awareness of the alternative viewpoint.
With the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in 1996-1997, the survival and general health of people with HIV improved significantly. The positive response to treatment with anti-HIV medication is regarded as further proof of HIV's causative role in AIDS, and has led several prominent AIDS dissidents to accept the causative role of HIV. Today, AIDS dissident arguments are widely regarded as pseudoscience, on par with Lysenkoism. Nevertheless, these theories continue to exert a significant influence in some communities; a survey conducted at minority gay pride events in four American cities in 2005 found that 33% of attendees doubted that HIV caused AIDS.
AIDS activists have expressed concern that dissident arguments about HIV's harmlessness may be responsible for an upsurge in HIV infections. According to Stephen Thomas, director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Minority Health:
People are focusing on the wrong thing. They’re focusing on conspiracies rather than protecting themselves, rather than getting tested and seeking out appropriate care and treatment.
Impact in South Africa
The government of South African President Thabo Mbeki has been sympathetic to the views of AIDS dissidents in the past; critics charge that dissident influence has been responsible for a slow and ineffective governmental response to the AIDS epidemic.
In 2000, when the International AIDS Conference was held in Durban, President Mbeki convened a Presidential Advisory Panel containing a number of AIDS dissidents, including Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick. The Advisory Panel meetings were closed to the general press; an invited reporter wrote that Rasnick advocated that HIV testing be legally banned and denied that he had seen "any evidence" of an AIDS catastrophe in South Africa, while Duesberg "gave a presentation so removed from African medical reality that it left several local doctors shaking their heads."
In his address to the International AIDS Conference, Mbeki reiterated his view that HIV was not wholly responsible for AIDS, leading hundreds of delegates to walk out on his speech. Mbeki also sent a letter to a number of world leaders likening the mainstream AIDS research community to supporters of the apartheid regime. The tone and content of Mbeki's letter led diplomats in the U.S. to initially question whether it was a hoax.
Mainstream AIDS scientists and activists were dismayed at the president's behavior and responded with the Durban declaration, a document affirming that HIV causes AIDS, signed by over 5,000 scientists and physicians.
Criticism of governmental response
South African health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has also attracted heavy criticism, as she has often promoted nutritional remedies such as garlic, lemons and olive oil to people suffering from AIDS, while emphasizing possible toxicities of antiretroviral drugs, which she has referred to as "poison". The South African Medical Association has accused Tshabalala-Msimang of "confusing a vulnerable public". In September 2006, a group of over 80 scientists and academics called for "the immediate removal of Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang as minister of health and for an end to the disastrous, pseudoscientific policies that have characterized the South African government's response to HIV/AIDS." In December 2006, deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge described "denial at the very highest levels" over AIDS. She was subsequently fired by Mbeki.
Mbeki's government has been widely criticized for delaying the rollout of programs to provide antiretroviral drugs to people with advanced HIV disease and to HIV-positive pregnant women. The national treatment program began only after the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) brought a legal case against Government ministers, claiming they were responsible for the deaths of 600 HIV-positive people a day who could not access medication. South Africa was one of the last countries in the region to begin such a treatment program, and roll-out has been much slower than planned.
At the XVI International AIDS Conference, Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy for AIDS in Africa, attacked Mbeki's government for its slow response to the AIDS epidemic and reliance on dissident theories:
It [South Africa] is the only country in Africa ... whose government is still obtuse, dilatory and negligent about rolling out treatment... It is the only country in Africa whose government continues to promote theories more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state.
In 2002, Mbeki requested that AIDS dissidents no longer use his name in dissident literature, and requested that dissidents stop signing documents with "Member of President Mbeki's AIDS Advisory Panel".
In early 2005, former South African president Nelson Mandela announced that his son had died of complications of AIDS. Mandela's public announcement was seen as both an effort to combat the stigma associated with AIDS, and as a "political statement designed to... force the President [Mbeki] out of his denial."
Harm allegedly caused by dissident views
Many AIDS experts and activists have alleged that the AIDS reappraisal movement endangers lives by persuading people to abandon safer sex or forego HIV testing and treatment. In particular, the Durban declaration stated that:
HIV causes AIDS. It is unfortunate that a few vocal people continue to deny the evidence. This position will cost countless lives.
In response to such accusations, the dissident Perth Group has denied encouraging unsafe sex or drug use; indeed, they contend that passive anal sex and drug use increase risk of AIDS and should be avoided. Duesberg argues that although HIV itself is harmless, HIV-infected people are treated with medications which he claims cause AIDS; therefore, he argues, condom use will "protect people who have an average of 1,000 sexual contacts with HIV-positives from infection, and thus from AIDS caused by anti-HIV medication."
See also Pieter Fourie, "The Political Management of HIV and AIDS in South Africa: One burden too many?" Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, ISBN 0230006671
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "AIDS_reappraisal". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|