HIV doesn’t cause AIDS? Fooey!
By Kelly A. McCann
I love Law & Order! All of ’em. The original L&O is great, and Criminal Intent is good, but I especially love Special Victims Unit (SVU). Maybe it’s because I think Mariska Hargitay is hot, or maybe it’s because SVU deals with sexual issues and I’m just a little bit of a sick ticket. But the main reason I love SVU is because the show addresses pertinent and timely issues. After all, the stories are “ripped from the headlines.” Doink-doink!
The SVU episode that aired Tuesday, October 28, 2008, dealt with parents of HIV-infected children and their doctor who were all “AIDS denialists.” These are people who do not believe that HIV causes AIDS.
Sadly, AIDS denialists are not fictitious. There are actually people in the world who think HIV is a harmless organism. They believe pharmaceutical companies have wrongly convinced the world it causes AIDS, all so they could make huge amounts of money manufacturing anti-retroviral medications. The deniers profess that AIDS is actually caused by anal sex, drug use, malnutrition, or even HIV medications!
Who are these people? Do they belong to a faction of the Flat Earth Society? Do they also refute the Holocaust? Are they just a bunch of flakes who have never heard of science?
Not all of them. Some of the AIDS denialists are powerful or influential persons. For example, Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa from 1999 through September of this year, has made many public statements about his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS. He even made that audacious claim in a speech at the 13th International AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa, in 2000. His speech did not go over well (it pays to know your audience), but it certainly made an impact.
Apparently, South Africa is a hot-bed of denialists. Their government’s current minister in the presidency, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (not pronounced, shama-lama-ding-dong, by the way) refuses to endorse the use of antiretroviral medications. Instead, she supports the use of lemon, garlic, beetroot, and other vegetables for the treatment of AIDS. “Dr. Beetroot,” as she has been called, further warns that HIV meds are toxic and should be avoided.
Another poster boy for the AIDS deniers is Dr. Mathias Rath. His views have been touted by Mbeki and others as support for their stance on HIV/AIDS. Like Dr. Beetroot, Dr. Rath condemns the use of HIV medications. Instead, his recommended treatment for AIDS and a litany of other health problems is micronutrients.
Several years ago, What If Everything You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong? by Christine Maggiore was published. In this book, Maggiore, an HIV-infected woman, denies the link between HIV and AIDS, questions the validity of HIV tests, and advises against taking antiretroviral medications. Maggiore also founded an organization, Alive & Well Alternatives to AIDS, whose mission is to refute AIDS science.
The rock group, Foo Fighters, got on the denialist bandwagon in 2000 when they stated publicly their support for Alive & Well after bassist Nate Mendel and other members read Maggiore’s book. That same year, they played a benefit concert for the organization, and later they contributed songs to a documentary, The Other Side of AIDS, created by Maggiore’s husband, Robin Scovill. The film also presents the view that HIV does not cause AIDS.
Happily, the Foo Fighters eventually saw Maggiore’s group as “The Pretender” it is, and the band has since removed Alive & Well from the its list of supported causes.
On a sad note, Maggiore’s and Scovill’s daughter, Eliza Jane, died from AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of three. Eliza had never been tested nor treated for HIV despite the fact her mother was infected and had breast-fed her.
Worse still, Maggiore and Scovill continue to beat the denialist drum. Despite coroners’ reports, they claim Eliza Jane did not succumb to pneumocystis pneumonia but instead died of an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. They even secured the services of a veterinary toxicologist to support their assertion. This was the case that inspired the recent SVU episode.
Make no mistake about it. HIV causes AIDS. Twenty-seven years of science and millions of lives have proven that point. Thousands of reputable physicians and scores of medical schools and health organizations agree with that view. And thanks to the advent of protease inhibitors and other effective antiretrovirals, we now have over a decade’s worth of research that shows HIV can be successfully treated with medication.
But let’s be clear. It is every HIV-infected person’s right to determine the best course of treatment for him or herself, even if that means no treatment. However, that person also owes it to him or herself to conduct thorough research, ask innumerable questions of healthcare professionals she trusts, and do much soul searching before making a final decision.
Kelly A. McCann is the chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston. For information about HIV medications and other AIDS treatments, call the Center for AIDS Information and Advocacy at 713/527-8219 or log on to centerforaids.org.