Some observers are critical of HIV theory and they have a right to be heardThe huge flaws in the HIV theory go deeper than questions over the extent to which HIV is the cause of Aids, or the toxicity or effectiveness of drugs directed against the virus.
Astonishingly, they challenge the very existence of the virus itselfand thus, the validity of the HIV testas well as the multibillion-dollar industry producing pharmaceutical interventions for Aids.
Some of the scientists contributing to President Thabo Mbeki's Aids Advisory Panel have been trying for more than a decade to demonstrate these flaws to the scientific community. No one would listen. None of the mainstream journals would publish their work. There was no discussion.
From the beginning, powerful political, social and commercial forces shaped Aids science, and the possibility that the HIV theory might be fundamentally wrong soon became scientifically unthinkable.
This is one reason why Mbeki has incurred such incomprehension and criticism. Few of the doctors and scientists who signed last week's pro-HIV Durban Declaration know of the criticism to which the HIV theory has been subjected. There has been an information blackout by leading scientific journals such as Nature, which helped organise the declaration.
While scientists are pressing for a reappraisal of the HIV theory, the most comprehensive critique has been developed by a group of scientists based in Perth, Australia. Two members of the group, Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos, a medical physicist, and Dr Val Turner, an emergency physician, were in Johannesburg last week to give evidence to the advisory panel. They received support from scientists in other fields of expertise, including epidemiology, virus isolation and HIV diagnosis. It was on the basis of this evidence that the panel agreed to research the validity of the HIV test.
This is what the Perth group says:
In the rush to come first with a viral cause of Aids, scientists mistakenly inferred the presence of a unique, new, sexually transmitted microbe, and have wrongly scared the living daylights out of us ever since.
Cells of the immune system can become over-stimulated as a result of a variety of biological assaults. When this happens, they produce biochemical signals that HIV theorists have misinterpreted as evidence for the presence of a new virus.
Triggers for this reaction include exposure to infections, especially in malnourished people whose immunity is already compromised; heavy exposure to blood and blood products and other body fluids, including semen; and heavy drug use.
The body produces antibodies in response to this reaction, but these antibodies are to products of the disordered cells, not to a viral invader.
Poor people in Africa and elsewhere are especially at risk of testing positive for these antibodies, but this is not because of the spread of a sexually transmitted virus. It is because they are more at risk of being exposed to long-established infections, particularly tuberculosis, that trigger a positive result with the HIV test.
People who test positive are at increased risk of becoming ill, and of dying if no action is taken over the true cause of their illness. However, this is not because they are infected with a lethal virus. If the conditions that caused them to test positive are changed, they are likely to stay well.
The HIV test is useful in screening blood, because it helps exclude donations from carriers of TB and other disorders. But it is tragically misleading to tell individuals who test positive that they have HIV.
Claims that the tests are accurate in diagnosing the presence of HIV are unfounded. The tests have never been validated by showing that the virus is present in those who test positive, and not in those who test negative. The method used has simply been to show that people in Western "risk groups" for Aids are much more likely to test positive than healthy people. The Perth group agrees that this association is present, but says it does nothing to prove HIV as the cause.
The test could not be validated by showing the presence of HIV, because no such virus has ever been isolated from patients, according to previously accepted standards.
When immune cells are heavily stimulated in the laboratory, they can produce particles and other products of the genes in the cells. From these, viral tests have been developed, but the same criticism applies: they have never been validated against isolation of purified HIV.
In the earlier years of Aids, when American, French and British scientists introduced the HIV concept and the test and treatment, the perception that there was a public health emergency made it hard for dissenting views to be expressed. Today, the silence owes as much to embarrassment, and the power of commercial interests, as to any altruistic motives.
Millions are said to have died of Aids in Africa, while in Britain, a nation of 60 million people, cases amount to about 16,000 since the epidemic began in the early 1980s, and are falling: the total this year is 300. Anti-viral drugs have nothing to do with this difference, contrary to the claims in the Durban Declaration. There is not a single long-term study showing the drugs save lives. On the contrary, there is evidence that the anti-viral approach kills. Recognition of this fact, along with increasing awareness of the flaws in the HIV theory, is a factor contributing to the falling death rate in Europe.
South Africa has been told that a 10th of its people are infected with HIV, and that about half of all its 15-year-olds will die of Aids. The government is surely entitled to listen to previously ignored scientists who believe these predictions stem from use of an invalid diagnostic test, for a virus that has never been proved to exist.
Neville Hodgkinson, formerly medical and science correspondent of the London Sunday Times, is the author of AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science (Fourth Estate, London, 1996). He was an observer at last week's hearing of the Aids Advisory Panel.
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