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Archive for August 4th, 2009

Charity commission says it has no powers to act against a UK charity putting out dangerous misinformation on AIDS

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I recently blogged about a UK registered charity called the “Immunity Resource Foundation”, whose official objectives include:

“To advance the education of the public in the fields of medicine, health care and medical science”

and

“To relieve sickness and assist sick and disabled persons… by providing them with access to information concerning diseases and medical conditions (and in particular AIDS)…”

But the information promoted on the charity’s website includes the claim that “the AIDS edifice is built upon a false hypothesis”, that AIDS “is not an infectious disease” and that “HIV cannot cause AIDS”. The charity also provides links to a range of AIDS denialist websites, including “Living Without HIV Drugs” – which urges HIV-positive patients to stop taking conventional medications.

As has been well-documented elsewhere, this kind of misinformation around HIV and AIDS has already done enormous damage, with a grim roster of HIV-positive AIDS denialists dying after refusing to take medicines that could have saved their lives, and many thousands more deaths resulting from the application of AIDS denialist ideas by the South African government.

Far from advancing the “education of the public”, any organisation which promotes these ideas is disseminating dangerous misinformation. And far from relieving sickness, the promotion of AIDS denialism under the guise of providing health information can have deadly consequences.

The Charity Commission exists to ensure that charities registered in England and Wales benefit the public interest and act in accordance with their stated objectives.  However, when contacted about the activities of the Immunity Resource Foundation, the Commission stated that:

We do not have the remit or expertise to judge whether they are providing the correct advice. We can only become involved in matters where our regulatory powers permit us to intervene and unfortunately this issue falls outside of that remit.

The upshot of this seems to be that a registered charity is free to make false, misleading and dangerous scientific claims about a major public health issue – even where this runs directly contrary to the charity’s official objectives – because the government body that regulates charities does not have access to the technical expertise necessary to evaluate such claims.

This seems like quite a big loophole, and also something of a double-standard. Whereas a private business that makes false scientific claims about its products is answerable, at least in principle, to the Trading Standards Institute, it would appear that UK registered charities are currently free to disseminate pseudo-science more or less with impunity.

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Written by Richard Wilson

August 4, 2009 at 2:38 pm