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Denying Aids – The first definitive account of the history and development of AIDS denialism

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denyingaids

AIDS denialism matters because it kills people.

In South Africa at the beginning of this decade, the government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by a fringe group of conspiracy theorists who claim – in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary – that HIV is not the cause of AIDS and that the symptoms associated with the disease are in fact caused by the drugs given to HIV-positive patients.

When pseudo-science takes hold over government policy, the consequences can be catastrophic. Under the AIDS denialists’ influence, Mbeki’s government chose to obstruct the public distribution of anti-retroviral drugs in South Africa. A recent Harvard study concluded that this decision alone has led to more than 300,000 preventable deaths.  

AIDS denialism matters because it is continuing today, notwithstanding the fact that dozens of HIV-positive self-described “AIDS dissidents”, who believed so strongly in the ideology of denial that they refused to take anti-retroviral drugs themselves, have died prematurely from AIDS-defining diseases. AIDS denialism matters because its proponents are continuing to disseminate misinformation, and are continuing to lead people astray. 

Yesterday I had a fascinating discussion about these issues with Seth Kalichman, whose very readable book “Denying AIDS” gives the first definitive account of the history and psychology of this toxic ideology – from its origins in the US in the late 1980s to its devastating impact in South Africa in the last decade. In writing the book, Seth went undercover to interview and correspond with some of the movement’s leading lights – including the “godfather” of AIDS denialism, Berkeley virologist Peter Duesberg. 

As is normal for anyone writing or speaking publicly on this subject, Seth has been on the receiving end of all manner of brickbats from riled denialists, some of which he’s listed here.  It was great to meet up and compare notes with a co-conspirator (or have I said too much?!).

Also in attendance was Neil Denny, the producer of the excellent Little Atoms podcast, and the formidable Ben Goldacre, the author of Bad Science who famously trounced the AIDS denialist millionaire vitamin quack Matthias Rath after the guy filed a malicious libel suit over his coverage of Rath’s claims. Expect to hear Seth Kalichman on Little Atoms some time in the next few months.

Written by Richard Wilson

April 23, 2009 at 11:53 am

Seth Kalichman on Christine Maggiore

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From Denying Aids

In her life, Christine Maggiore was a visible and vocal advocate for a propaganda campaign that undermines the prevention and treatment of HIV infection – among the greatest threats to global public health. In life she was a voice for pseudoscience. Christine Maggiore spread conspiracy theories and ‘deconstructed AIDS’ to disinform and confuse people who are in desperate need of accurate information.

In her death, she has stirred the controversy she helped create. Those who looked to her for inspiration as the person who tested HIV positive and was alive and well without treatment must now confront what it means that she has died an uncommon death from an infectious disease. For some in denial, the death of Christine Maggiore will mean a snap back to reality. But for many others it will not…

The legacy of AIDS denialism is seen in the same desperation of other people who were led by denialism to feel good only to be shattered as they fell ill. Here are a few such stories accessed at the AIDS Myth Exposed Message Board.

Hi there I am new to this site and have been a member of HEAL Toronto and am a great supporter of Aliveandwell.org and Christine Maggiores work. I consider myself a dissident and am trying to find out the answers to this mystery called HIV/Aids. I tested positive in 1998 and on no treatment and in good health until Apr of this year when I came down with mild case of KS. At this time I unfortunately had to forgo treatment and started treatment at that time and its been ongoing ever since. I must admit that the short treatment did alleviate the symptoms I had within a short period of time. My concern now (knowing what I know about alternative discussions on whether or not hiv is the cause of aids) is that im wondering how long I should stay on the meds. My gut feeling is to stop now but my inner fear dictates otherwise.

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I have been a dissident for seven years. I am now being pressured to take an antiretroviral called Atripla starting next week. If anyone might have some advice for me on this topic I welcome it. As a dissident, I stopped having my surrogate markers checked several years ago and because I seemed to be enjoying good health I did not feel it was necessary. Last month I went to the doctor complaining of headaches sinus problems and general malaise which had been plaguing me since November of last year. Because I was supposed to leave on a trip the next week I wanted to get myself well. I was given a CAT scan and put in the hospital after the CAT scan revealed lesions on my brain attributable to Toxoplasmosis. I was in the hospital a week and I am only now returning to work after an absence of three weeks. My family came to see me in the hospital and I was able to avoid the AIDS issue somehow. Strangely enough I was HIV negative two years ago on a test. Anyway, my surrogate markers were 25 for CD4 count and 185,000 for viral load. According to my partner and my doctors, if I had been monitoring my numbers all of the could have been avoided. I do feel somewhat sheepish about what happened to me. I am now left with wondering what to do. I truly never thought that I would end up with an AIDS diagnosis in the hospital...

See also: The parallels between AIDS denial and Holocaust negationism

Written by Richard Wilson

January 7, 2009 at 9:55 pm