Just as there are folks today who still believe that the earth is flat, there are also those who deny that HIV infections can cause AIDS. While there are certainly reckless individuals among the HIV denialists, the leaders of the movement comprise not just fake gurus and pseudoscientists, but qualified scientists as well. The most prominent among them is one Professor Peter Duesberg, a biologist at the University of California. With a respectable leader like Prof Duesberg, the AIDS denialists proudly regard themselves as AIDS sceptics.
AIDS was first identified in the US in 1981. It didn’t take researchers very long to identify the causative agent – a new virus known as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). It is estimated that 37 million people in the world are living with HIV/AIDS. Many of them of live in the developed world are likely to have a normal lifespan as HIV can now be managed with antiretroviral drugs.
In this day and age, everyone has a voice. That includes the folks who believe that the earth is flat and those who think that HIV infection does not lead to AIDS. They can be divided into two groups – the thought leaders (usually learned individuals) and the followers (people at risk of getting infected). There is an endless stream of AIDS denialism out there, from books to websites and conferences. These folks believe that the myth that AIDS is a disease caused by pollution and other environmental issues. They believe that antiretroviral drugs are toxic substances rolled out by pharmaceutical companies to trick those infected by HIV into buying their products.
Psychologist Prof Seth Kalichman, University of Connecticut, believes that many AIDS denialists exhibit a degree of narcissism and paranoia. Thus, they show mistrust in the establishment and stubbornly believe that they are smart enough to know the truth in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. The denialists demand to see studies to prove that HIV infection causes AIDS. Of course, no scientist would bother to conduct such an experiment (it is hardly possible to exclude all other factors in a living human body). The proven fact is, AIDS can be held at bay by treatment with drugs against HIV.
Of course, these drugs are not cheap and the denialists are not pure seekers of the truth either. Some of them supply vitamins, supplements as well as unorthodox treatments while they accuse orthodox treatment as scams. The denialists believe that the HIV=AIDS link is a conspiracy touted by the government and pharmaceutical companies. Henry Bauer, emeritus professor of Chemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, another illustrious AIDS denilaist, Bauer went as far as to suggest that HIV is not sexually transmitted. He based his conclusion on the observation that while female recruits in the army were just as likely as male recruits to test positive for HIV, the men were more likely to develop AIDS in later life.
Like other “experts” in the cult, Prof Bauer believes that he is doing the world a very big favour. But by discouraging HIV tests and treatment with antiretroviral drugs when tested positive, folks like him are causing many people to miss out on treatment they badly need. Who listens to AIDS deniers? Well, obviously people at high risk of developing AIDS. Even better are those who are already HIV positive. It’s not a death sentence provided these individuals seek appropriate treatment. It’s almost certainly a death sentence if they refuse treatment and listen to the deniers. How nice if their diagnosis is fraudulent. How nice that even if they have been infected, they are not going to get AIDS.
Christine Maggiore was one of those who started off as a follower. She was tested positive for HIV in 1992 and saw hope in denialism. Maggiore grew from a follower to an influencer. she founded Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, an organisation denying the connection between HIV and AIDS and urging pregnant HIV-positive women to avoid HIV medications for themselves and their children.
Maggiore audaciously ignored doctors’ orders for breast-feeding her children, denying the known fact that breast feeding has been shown to increase the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. To further mislead herself and the public, she authored and self-published the book What If Everything You Thought You Knew about AIDS Was Wrong? After giving birth to her daughter Eliza, Christine did not take any precautions not to infect her daughter because influenced by denialists like Peter Duesberg, she believed that HIV is harmless! Her 3-year-old daughter died of AIDS-related pneumonia. Maggiore herself died on December 27, 2008, after suffering from AIDS-related conditions. Maggiore rejected the coroner’s conclusion, ascribing it to political bias and attacking the personal credibility of the senior coroner. She later got a vet to prove that her daughter died of an allergic reaction to amoxicillin.
Maggiore herself became gravely ill with pneumonia in 2008. Even then, she did not believe that she had AIDS. She finally died on 27 December. A doctor familiar with the family noted that anti-HIV drugs could have prevented her death, but Maggiore’s fellow AIDS denialists argued that her pneumonia was not AIDS-related and suggested instead that she died as a result of a toxic alternative medicine “holistic cleanse”, stress, or the cold and flu.