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Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy

Seeking Stories of AIDS Denialism

Have you or someone you know been harmed by AIDS Denialism? If you, or someone you care about, have been advised to stop taking HIV meds, ignore HIV test results, purchase a 'natural' cure etc., please email me.

aidsandbehavior@yahoo.com

All information will be kept confidential.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Justice After AIDS Denialism: Should There Be Prosecutions and Compensation?

COMMENTARY
By Nathan Geffen
published in Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes

Edward Mabunda died on April 9, 2003. At least another 600 people died of AIDS in South Africa that day.(1) Edward was just 36 years old. He left behind a wife and 3 children. He was also a leader in the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). He became an icon of the movement because of the fiery poetry that he recited to thousands of people. His poems urged former President Thabo Mbeki to make antiretrovirals (ARVs) available in South Africa’s public health system. He died because he could not obtain these life-saving medicines in time.(2)

From 1999 to 2007, Mbeki and his Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang obstructed and then undermined the implementation of highly active ARV treatment (HAART) and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the public health system. Two studies, conducted independently of each other, conservatively calculated that over 300,000 people died because of Mbeki’s AIDS denialist policies.(3–5) Edward Mabunda was one of them. These studies could not account for additional deaths due to the promotion of quackery, often with the health minister’s support. They also did not consider the number of infections that occurred because of the confusion generated by the insipid state-funded prevention campaign and the messages by some outspoken Mbeki supporters dismissing the link between sex and HIV infection.(6) The Mbeki era also fostered a profound mistrust of scientific medicine, the consequences of which also cannot be quantified.

What, if any, repercussions should be there for those responsible for this tragedy? The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which South Africa is a signatory, defines the ‘‘intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population’’ as a crime against humanity.(7) President Mbeki did not execute people with guns or bombs, but he did have the power and responsibility to prevent several hundred thousand deaths. Yet, he and his health minister chose to ignore the scientific consensus and the vociferous demands of South African civil society groups like the TAC. Questioning scientific consensus is the prerogative of a political leader, but in this case, the consensus was overwhelming. Furthermore, dissent from the consensus, that is, the arguments of AIDS denialists, had been shown to be ludicrous long before Mbeki became president,(8) and the consequences of that dissent were always likely to be disastrous. Therefore, Mbeki must surely be held responsible for the disastrous aftermath of his policy choices.

This raises the possibility that he and Tshabalala-Msimang should be prosecuted. In 2003, the TAC laid a complaint of culpable homicide with the police against Tshabalala- Msimang.(9) The organization provided a detailed ‘‘docket’’ describing the evidence against her. The complaint was largely symbolic and part of a civil disobedience campaign that would ultimately change government policy. But perhaps, it is time to go beyond symbolism.

I am unaware of any other case in the history of the modern democratic state in which so many have died because political leaders willfully contradicted scientific advice. However, there have been instances in which political leaders have been successfully prosecuted for negligent behavior with far greater extenuating circumstances. For example, Edmond Herve, the former French health minister, was convicted for his role in the contamination of his country’s blood supply with HIV in the 1980s. Mbeki’s folly is in danger of being repeated: political leaders who use pseudoscientific arguments to deny the reality of global warming are also at risk being culpable of many deaths. Setting a precedent that will make politicians think twice before making this kind of error is an important reason to prosecute Mbeki and his advisors.

What about those who aided or failed to stop his and Tshabalala-Msimang’s policies? Alec Erwin, the Minister of Trade and Industry at the time, failed to take any of the steps available to him to bring down ARV prices and was consequently named as Tshabalala-Msimang’s coaccused in the TAC docket. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health is responsible for oversight of the Health Department. Yet, its head, James Ngculu, failed to hold Tshabalala- Msimang to account for her actions. Only a handful of the hundreds of African National Congress Members of Parliament spoke out publicly against Mbeki’s policies. Only 1 provincial government, the Western Cape, implemented prevention of mother-to-child transmission and HAART programmes expeditiously. The premiers and health ministers of the other 8 provinces, for the most part, failed to do so.

Also, what about scientists like Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick who provided a veneer of scientific credibility for Mbeki’s views? Can Duesberg, the most prominent scientist to promote AIDS denialism, claim that the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression protect him from sanction? Or is his situation not analogous to a financial advisor who provides fraudulent information, except in Duesberg’s case, the misinformation is deadly? Rasnick is even more implicated. He was found by a South African court to have conducted an unlawful clinical trial when he teamed up with vitamin salesman Matthias Rath and others to provide multivitamin tablets as an alternative to HAART to people dying of AIDS.(10) He loudly supported and encouraged the South African government’s refusal to provide HAART. He usually signed his articles as a member of Mbeki’s notorious AIDS advisory panel that was convened in 2000 to create the impression that there was a genuine scientific controversy about the cause of AIDS.(11,12)

What about Matthias Rath himself or the hundreds of other charlatans who provided quack treatments for AIDS with impunity during Tshabalala-Msimang’s reign, despite legislation preventing the sale of unregistered medicines for viral infections? Hardly, any have been prosecuted. Rath, for example, has had a plethora of civil court rulings and regulatory body warnings and findings against him in Germany, the United Kingdom, United States, and South Africa.(13) But, despite breaching South Africa’s Medicines Act, for example, no criminal proceedings against him have been initiated.

There is also the question of compensation. Although it is too late for those who have died, surely their families are entitled to redress? Determining compensation would be extremely difficult of course. Over 2 million South Africans died of AIDS during Mbeki’s reign. It is impossible to determine precisely that 300,000 lives could have been saved. For 1 thing, many people died without ever being tested and their HIV statuses will never be known.
Nevertheless, at least some families would be able to make unequivocal claims that 1 or more of their members died directly as a consequence of the state’s failure to provide medicines.

Answering the above questions will be difficult and controversial. They raise profound legal and moral predicaments. Ideally, the South African government should establish an independent Commission of Inquiry whose purpose would be to provide recommendations on what, if any, action should be taken against those responsible for the country’s AIDS denialist policies. Former deputy-health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who was fired by Mbeki arguably for her anti-denialist position, has already suggested this.(14) The commission should also consider the issue of compensation. South Africa’s new president, Jacob Zuma, has the power to institute it. This would be an excellent way for him to demonstrate that he is serious about accountability for the response to the HIV epidemic. Surely such a process is the minimum that the victims of AIDS denialism, their families and friends are entitled to? Edward Mabunda would have thought so.

REFERENCES
1. Actuarial Society of South Africa. ASSA 2003 [Internet]. Available at: http://actuarialsociety.co.za/Models-274.aspx. Accesed January 8, 2008.
2. TAC. TAC newsletter on the death of Edward Mabunda [Internet]. April 9, 2003. [cited January 5, 2009]. Available at: http://www.tac.org.za/newsletter/2003/ns09_04_2003.htm.
3. Chigwedere P, Seage G, Gruskin S, et al. Estimating the lost benefits of antiretroviral drug use in South Africa [Internet]. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2008. [cited January 5, 2009]. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm. nih.gov/pubmed/18931626.
4. Nattrass N. AIDS and the Scientific Governance of Medicine in Post-Apartheid South Africa [Internet]. African Affairs. 2008;107:157–176. [cited September 11, 2008]. Available at: http://afraf.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/107/427/157.
5. Bourne DE, Thompson M, Brody LL, et al. Emergence of a peak in early infant mortality due to HIV/AIDS in South Africa [Internet]. AIDS. 2009;23:101–106. [cited January 7, 2009]. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19065753.
6. TAC. The Citizen’s publicity for AIDS denialists is irresponsible [Internet]. 2006. [cited January 12, 2009]. Available at: http://www.tac.org.za/community/node/2214.
7. International Criminal Court. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [Internet]. 2002 July 1. [cited January 5, 2009]. Available at: http:// www.icc-cpi.int/about.html.
8. NIAID. The Relationship between the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome [Internet]. 1995 September. [cited February 6, 2009]. Available at: http://www.aidstruth.org/documents/NIH1995DocumentExplainingThatHIVCausesAIDS.pdf.
9. TAC. TAC Civil Disobedience Campaign [Internet]. March 20, 2003. [cited January 5, 2009]. Available at: http://www.tac.org.za/newsletter/ 2003/ns20_03_2003.htm#Docket.
10. Zondi J. Judgment in TAC and SAMAv. Rath and Others [Internet]. 2008. Available at: http://www.tac.org.za/community/files/file/TACAndSAMAVersusRathAndGovernmentJudgment.pdf.
11. Rapid Responses for Shelton et al. BMJ. 328:891–893 [Internet]. [cited January 14, 2009]. Available at: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/328/ 7444/891.
12. Government of South Africa. Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel Report [Internet]. March 2001. [cited January 13, 2008]. Available at: http://www.info.gov.za/otherdocs/2001/aidspanelpdf.pdf.
13. TAC. The Wrongs of Matthias Rath [Internet]. [cited January 7, 2009]. Available at: http://www.tac.org.za/community/rath.
14. Karrim Q. Calls for Aids TRC. Mail & Guardian. Available at: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-04-03-calls-for-aids-trc. Accessed April 27,2009.
Correspondence to: Nathan Geffen, MSc, Treatment Action Campaign, 2nd Floor, Westminster House, Cape Town 8001, South Africa (e-mail: nathangeffen@gmail.com).
Copyright _ 2009 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

26 comments:

  1. This should happen immediately. Duesberg should be the first one held accountable. If it were not for Duesberg and his ego, which will not allow him to admit that he is wrong, Mbeki would not have been convinced!
    Also, if it were not for Duesberg and a small handful of others this statement from above:
    "Mbeki’s notorious AIDS advisory panel that was convened in 2000 to create the impression that there was a genuine scientific controversy about the cause of AIDS.(11,12)" then this falsehood could never have taken hold. What these denialists need to understand is that there is no, none, zero, nada, "scientific controversy" on the cause of AIDS!
    However, as is evidenced by Farber's lawsuit, LiaR Scheff's continued claims of horrendous research done on children, and Clark Baker's and Henry Bauer's continuance of writing non-sense as scientific fact on their respective bull~shit blogs, these people refuse to grow up and take responsibility for themselves and their lies.
    Perhaps if the law would intervene and give stiff penalties, then people like Farber, Baker, Bauer, Scheff, Null, Rath etc, would think twice.
    JTD

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  2. Personally I give it little if no chance of success, why? Because

    "The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which South Africa is a signatory, defines the ‘‘intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population’’ as a crime against humanity."

    One would have to prove that he intended to destroy part of a population which I think was not the case here.

    Although part of the debacle in SA can be attributed to Mbeki's stance on AIDS another part can be laid squarely at the feet of the Aids mainstream. If this demonstrates anything then surely it demonstrates an utter and complete failure of Aids education. Gallo was invited to this panel but didn't think it important enough to attend, Montagner attended for a day but took the opportunity to take a nap etc etc etc. Why was it so impossible for two thirds of this panel to convince Mbeki of the obvious? Well stupidity no doubt but who's?

    JTD: "If it were not for Duesberg and his ego, which will not allow him to admit that he is wrong, Mbeki would not have been convinced!"

    Again, Aids education fails utterly in the face on one discredited scientist. Why is that? Why is it that a handfull of loonies are giving HIV/AIDS and 100'000 scientists such a run for their money? Either 5 loons can build a more convincing argument or 100'000 scientists can't explain rocket science to a barmaid if their lives depended on it.

    In the face of all this , it might be a good opportunity to rethink Aids education altogether and fire en-masse all those who have been in charge of it so far, starting with Nathan Geffen perhaps.

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  3. "Perhaps if the law would intervene and give stiff penalties, then people like Farber, Baker, Bauer, Scheff, Null, Rath etc, would think twice."

    JTD just a thought. How about becoming pro-active in this field? Instead of waiting for the law to intervene why don't you get the ball rolling against Duesberg et al? Nothing is stopping you from filling criminal charges against them all you know. You have the energy and conviction to pull it off.

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  4. I'm afraid I could not start a law~suit of such dimension. Why? Because I am of the Orthodox NOT the Denialists and I know my limitations and whatsmore, I can freely admit them as well. Unlike the Litigous Denialists who file false law~suits all the time because they know all!! i.e. Farber/Baker lawsuit, for example.
    I am a mere mortal. It is the Denialists who claim to be Super Heroes. OR, if you are Brian Carter, you claim to be a Super Natant!! hahaha
    JTD

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  5. The same question is on everyone's mind. I did a talk on AIDS Denial today in Albany NY and someone asked "Isn't this criminal?"
    Sure seems so.

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  6. Morally, Duesberg and the other AIDS denialists who served on Mbeki's advisory panel are as guilty as Mbeki himself in causing the AIDS deaths of about 350,000 South Africans (and of course many others in American and Europe who also died of AIDS because of AIDS denialism, such as EJ Scovill). Legally, the relevant issues are now being studied very carefully so that, if charges are filed, they will lead to conviction under the appropriate statute. Obviously, prosecutions of this nature, whether in The Hague or another venue, are very, very expensive. Hence, there will need to be an assessment of whether the costs are justified or whether the funds should be spent, instead, on saving the lives of those who would otherwise die of AIDS. The balance between finding justice for those who have already died and saving others from death is not an easy one to find. One of the strongest arguments in favor of a prosecution is to send the clear message that there are genuine boundaries to free speech within the academic world, and that professional scientists can, and should, be held accountable when they base their views on pseudoscience and personal agendas.

    John P. Moore, PhD

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  7. JTD bows out. No problem.

    JP Moore

    "Legally, the relevant issues are now being studied very carefully so that, if charges are filed, they will lead to conviction under the appropriate statute."

    With all due respect to your cause, what statute would that be? I cannot see one aside from hysterical genocide talk or plain criminal negligence but I cannot see negligence in the case of Duesberg seeing he is simply giving his "expert" advice when asked for it. I believe there is an amendment protecting one's right to express an opinion and constitutional changes are thorny issues altogether.

    "Obviously, prosecutions of this nature, whether in The Hague or another venue, are very, very expensive"

    This smacks of a cop-out. Money is not the problem. It never was.

    "Hence, there will need to be an assessment of whether the costs are justified or whether the funds should be spent, instead, on saving the lives of those who would otherwise die of AIDS."

    Two million bucks worth of ARV's will not save 350'000 and the many others but two million bucks might get these denialists in prison for their crimes and send a message to the rest, no? This is your motivation for it after all. On the money scale of AIDS prevention, prosecutions are a drop in the bucket especially when it is such a slam-dunk case.

    "The balance between finding justice for those who have already died and saving others from death is not an easy one to find. "

    Yes it is, it is cheaper to prosecute 5 or so loons than it is to treat 350'000 people and counting, it really is. If indeed denialism is killing so many people than the balance is a no-brainer.

    "One of the strongest arguments in favor of a prosecution is to send the clear message that there are genuine boundaries to free speech within the academic world"

    This encapsulates my objection to prosecution entirely. This is the death knell of science altogether. Maybe not for HIV/AIDS but for science here on end. I challenge you, Mr. Moore to give us a rough outline as to how this law should be worded. I am riveted to my seat in anticipation of your answer if only because I cannot see it ever penned in ink or chisled in stone.

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  8. We neither debate with AIDS denialists (particularly ones who hide behind the label "Anonymous") nor do we discuss and thereby reveal our tactics in the war against them. "Anonymous" will simply have to await developments.

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  9. fire JP Moore too. All hot air. He is like the leader of a charge commanding from the rear. Not a man to follow.

    How would such a law or action be worded? A legitimate question.

    If there is no action to follow all this huffing and puffing you will come out a smaller man and make a bigger joke of it all. Stop it already you old fool.

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  10. John P Moore says:

    Of course no answer is going to be given here to any question posed by 'Anonymous', whoever he, she or it might be. The old maxim "never give a sucker an even break" applies. What possible gain is there for us to reveal our hand on a Blog?

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  11. I have an idea -- why doesn't Mandela, Mbeki and Jacob Zuma (after showering, off course) sue the crap out of the white apartheidists, like Nathan Geffen, Cameron and Botha as payback for the whites' systemic mistreatment of blacks over the centuries, and then, the white minority out of power, can sue the sensible blacks for not wanting to be falsely stigmatized by antibody tests, and not wanting to take loads of AZT, proffered by Pharmauetical goons and shills.

    Deal?

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  12. It seems inevitable that some family member of a person lured into AIDS denialism will make a claim. I will soon be posting stories of people who bought into AIDS denial and came to their senses. One case did not turn out so well and his story will be told first.

    Families likely hold the view that their sons, daughters, and partners made a personal choice to refuse treatment. But when the choice is misinformed by a group driven by pseudoscience and snake oil there could be grounds. The thing we need to realize is that people who buy into AIDS denialism are psychologically vulnerable. The choices they make are not of sound mind.

    Aside from legal accountability of dangerous academics, there needs to be a careful examination of the rules of tenure. We need to start policing our own. The Times Higher Education article posted below raises questions that academic institutions need to address. Post Tenure reviews are something to consider. I would like to see Post Tenure reviews every 5 years so that when the Nutty Professor who had merely been the Loch Ness Monster Scholar starts promoting the idea that HIV tests are invalid and HIV treatments are poison, he can be boxed up and shipped off to the Funny Farm. The same should happen to the Tenured Biologist who runs his lab off of politically motivated private funds to chase theories of cancer and AIDS to prove Human rather than Devine fallibility. Not publishing Post Tenure because of a conspiracy of peer review and government suppression should just not cut it. We see that pre-tenure review works, as in the case of Rebecca Culshaw. The International Association of University Professors is probably a reasonable place to start.

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  13. http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/abstract/136/4/312

    Legal, Financial, and Public Health Consequences of HIV Contamination of Blood and Blood Products in the 1980s and 1990s

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  14. Why has Duesberg still got a post at Berkeley ? His continued tenure lends credibility to his stature as an orthodox scientist. You'd have hoped that had he been employed by a British uni, he would have been fired a long time ago.

    Then there is that Emeritus Professor of Public Health in Glasgow (UK)Gordon Stewart who was on the notorious advisory panel. Glasgow, SCotland's oldest university, has a fine medical school but you wonder if they teach their students the science about HIV or Stewart's nonsense ? Its very worrying this man has recognition from an institution that was home to leading thinkers of the enlightenment.

    I am seeing, possibily imagining a trend in the UK whereby these psuedo scientists and quacks are finally being challenged in the courts or by regulatory bodies.

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  15. I don't understand.

    A fully qualified, trained and experienced medical doctor or clinical nurse who gives inept, eccentric or incompetent advice is liable to action under tort law, and sometimes under criminal law for the consequences of that advice if it results in harm.

    On the other hand, an "emeritus professor" in electrochemistry or say an MD boffin in Berkley with no actual relevant clinical experience can claim to override legitimate medical advice, and yet be totally unaccountable for the catastrophically negligent medical harm they do to individuals and in at least one case an entire country.

    How does this work again?

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  16. "How does this work again?"

    The qualified nurse is paid for by the patient where as the nessie hunters blog away as a hobby and people ask them for advice at their own peril.

    Now who is gonna sue here? Who is gonna make good on all this legal talk about jailing Duesberg and Bauer? One day talk needs to translate into action and action has been waiting for several years now.

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  17. Henry Bauer's StudentJune 30, 2009 at 8:50 PM

    The machinery of the legal system grinds slow. It could take years. Have you seen Duesberg and Bauer lately? They obviously don’t buy green bananas.

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  18. "They obviously don’t buy green bananas."

    ??? not familiar with this expression

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  19. Henry Bauer's StudentJune 30, 2009 at 11:37 PM

    These guys are in their 70’s. Just how much longer do they have? I mean they surely have lived clean life styles. Peter drinks green tea and rides a bike. And Henry swims with the Nessies. But not even they will live the years of due litigation. I doubt they buy green bananas… can they risk the time to ripen?

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  20. "But not even they will live the years of due litigation"

    I wager it will never happen. Not for them and not for any others...save for Mbeki "perhaps"

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  21. A criminal complaint in this matter has already been filed in the International Court in the Hague. http://www.tig.org.za/pdf-files/icc_achmatcomplaint.pdf

    Informative and some may find it funny.

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  22. YourFriendMariaAngusSentMeJuly 8, 2009 at 1:26 AM

    Seth said "It seems inevitable that some family member of a person lured into AIDS denialism will make a claim." You are right Kalichman. Once all the precedent-setting court cases begin, they can stand in line to be heard behind the families of the 300,000 people who were admittedly murdered by high-dose AZT monotherapy. It's going to be a long wait, though. I hope you brought some good books to read.

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  23. Rewriting history? How did the 300,000 die from AZT poisoning when Thabo and Manto refused to treat? I suppose 6 Million Jews died from spoiled smoked salmon too?
    Try again.

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  24. The denialists are excellent at rewriting history and fantasizing about imaginary court cases in which they win.

    Not happy with reality? Simply create another.

    http://www.theaidstrial.com/

    The only place that denialists are going to win a court case as described in Stephen Davis' work of fiction is in their imagination.

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  25. That is exactly what Clark Baker does every time he writes a post at his blog. Baker has made it his mission to twist and lie about everything he writes about. Now he is denying Global Warming and putting words into the mouth of Al Gore by saying that "if you do not believe as Al Gore does, you are a Nazi Sympathizer"!
    I would like to re~write Baker's history. In my version, his mother still has the abortion, but Lil' Clarkie does not survive!
    JTD

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