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HIV denialism has taken too many lives - Ken Witwer and Seth Kalichman

14 February 2011

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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:

Witwer and Kalichman's piece is embedded below.

HIV denialism has taken too many lives

Beware the medical myth that HIV is harmless or doesn't even exist


"What if most everything you think you know about HIV and AIDS is wrong?" This, according to Terry Michael in his opinion piece "Junk science and AIDS" (Gazette, Feb. 5) is the question that HIV-positive boxer Tommy Morrison is asking Canadian officials in his plea to fight in Quebec on Feb. 25. Morrison has repeatedly tested positive for HIV and refuses to take an HIV test that is mandatory if he is to take part in the fight. The authorities require the test because, fairly or not, they do not want to risk Morrison's infecting his opponent or anyone else who comes into contact with his blood.

Rather than encourage Morrison to take the simple, routine HIV test, ending the speculation about his HIV status and clearing his way into the ring, Michael astonishingly states that HIV tests are not accurate and that HIV, the cause of AIDS, does not even exist.

The science is indisputable. HIV tests are among the most accurate tests for any medical condition. HIV/AIDS has caused tens of millions of deaths: men and women, old and young, gay and straight.

Michael's article raises questions of responsibility and accountability. Is it acceptable when unsound information is printed in the pages of a major newspaper? AIDS denialism -the movement professing that HIV is harmless or nonexistent - has claimed several hundred thousand lives in South Africa alone. Presenting such views as if they were valid alternatives to scientific knowledge has the effect of legitimizing them and ensuring their continued spread.

A poignant illustration of the consequences of AIDS denialism is a woman named Christine Maggiore. Maggiore wrote the book that Michael co-opted in his article: "What if everything you thought you knew about AIDS was wrong?" Like Michael, Christine Maggiore was neither a doctor nor a scientist, yet when she discovered that she was HIV-positive, she bet her life on the lie that HIV, if it even exists, is harmless.

Maggiore accepted the unfounded views of fringe biologist Peter Duesberg. She listened to an Internet organization called Rethinking AIDS. As a result, her daughter was infected with HIV and died of AIDS at the age of 3. Unshaken by even this tragedy, Maggiore founded an organization to persuade HIV-positive mothers to do the same things that had led to her own child's death. In 2008, Maggiore herself died of AIDS, but not before ensuring that others would follow.

It is disturbingly ironic that Michael uses the late Maggiore's words in defence of Tommy Morrison. Let us hope that HIV-positive people who have been deceived by AIDS denialism -including Morrison, if he is indeed HIV-positive -will come to their senses and obtain sound medical advice.

We encourage the readers of The Gazette to beware medical myths that masquerade as scientific information.

Ken Witwer researches HIV and related viruses as a fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Seth Kalichman is a professor at the University of Connecticut and author of the book Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy.