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Killer syndrome: The Aids denialists

01 December 2009

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Rob Sharp reports in The Independent on the presistence of AIDS denialism

A middle-aged man walks into an East London café and apologises for being late. With his clipped hair and bus-driver's uniform of thick overcoat, shirt, and branded tie, he looks like any other public service employee. But soon he delivers a speech of startling ferocity against the medical establishment.

Mike explains that he runs a London-based health website on which he posts articles and links to information that questions whether HIV causes Aids, disputes the existence of HIV, and denies the fact that unprotected sex helps to spread it. He offers support for those who, he says, are "negotiating with medical authorities over taking a different approach to dealing with their circumstances." He claims to get thousands of hits on his site and has helped advise several people who have been diagnosed with HIV and are launching legal action against their local health authorities, in the belief that they have been unfairly treated by the doctors who are trying to help them.

Mike is an Aids denialist. He shares the view of a global network of academics and campaigners that follow the proclamations of Peter Duesberg, a cell biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who believes HIV does not cause Aids. And, alarmingly, 2009 has been a good year for the denialist community.

In the first week of November, a record number of Aids denialists from 28 countries, including Britain, attended the Rethinking Aids conference in Oakland, California. One of the main draws of the conference was a screening of a controversial new documentary by Canadian-born director Brent Leung, House of Numbers, which gives a platform to denialist theories.

Over the last two months it has been screened at the Cambridge and Raindance Film Festivals - decisions that provoked a storm of criticism online. The Spectator was forced to cancel a debate and screening of the film on 28 October after some of the participating speakers pulled out. And yet despite widespread outrage, the film has undoubtedly encouraged those who espouse denialist theories in the UK.

So who are the Aids deniers and what do they believe? According to Seth Kalichman, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut, whose exposé of the movement, Denying Aids, was published in March, denialists anywhere in the world generally share several common beliefs. They say that the "myth" that HIV causes Aids is the product of conspiracies between governments and the pharmaceutical industry; that antiretroviral medication is toxic; and that one day the orthodox medical theories on HIV will crumble.

So far, so typically crackpot. But the movement has gained some damaging traction - and the propagation of denialist theories can have deadly repercussions. Aids charities warn that reading material which argues that HIV does not cause Aids can dissuade potential sufferers from getting tested for HIV, and even lead HIV-infected people to ignore HIV-positive results and cause them to reject antiretroviral therapies.

"Denying the link between HIV and Aids is scientific illiteracy," says Yusef Azad, director of policy and campaigns at the National Aids Trust, Britain's leading HIV/Aids charity. "But worse than that, it is profoundly dangerous and has caused countless unnecessary deaths. Just because something is on the internet does not mean it is even remotely true. More than two decades of peer-reviewed scientific research demonstrates in some detail how HIV attacks the immune system and causes Aids if left untreated."

Read the full article on The Independent's website.


House of Numbers

An AIDS denialist film "House of Numbers" is doing the rounds at film festivals and is being promoted to college campuses and similar venues. AT has published several items about the misinformation contained in the film. For comprehensive information on the lies and distortions in the film, visit Inside House of Numbers.


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