In the recent paper “AIDS Denialism and Public Health Practice,” Professor Myron Essex and Dr. Pride Chigwedere of the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative provide scientific evidence to refute AIDS denialist beliefs. They show that AIDS denialist policies like withholding antiretroviral treatment to HIV-infected individuals in South Africa has resulted in thousands of deaths in that country.
Denialists do not believe that HIV causes AIDS, that the disease has caused widespread deaths, or that antiretroviral drugs are effective. AIDS denialists, whose adherents have been likened by critics to Holocaust deniers, belong to a movement that has been largely propagated through the Internet.
To make their case, the authors provide a history of how the cause of AIDS was investigated, irrefutable data demonstrating antiretroviral efficacy, and population statistics that are consistent with those from AIDS.
The authors discredit unscientific practices of AIDS denialists, including their use of anecdotal cases and death notification, which they characterize as crude and misrepresentative forms of presenting information.
Essex and Chigwedere use the South African case as an example to illustrate the “grave implications of AIDS denialism for public health practice.” The researchers note that because they were denied antiretroviral drugs, 330,000 South Africans died prematurely and 35,000 newborn babies were infected with HIV between 2000 and 2005.
The researchers specifically identify the role former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS denialist policies played in these deaths. In 1999, he withdrew support from clinics that had begun using zidovudine (Retrovir or AZT) for preventing transmission of HIV from mothers to their children during childbirth.
Mbeki also restricted the use of donated Viramune (nevirapine) in 2000, blocked AIDS treatment grants from the Global Fund in 2002, and delayed implementing a national antiretroviral treatment program until 2004.
Essex and Chigwedere also argue that “denialist writings require close scrutiny and peer review before being published in scientific journals, especially when they have the potential to impact public health practice.” They point to one of the most famous AIDS denialists, Peter Duesberg, who served on a 2000 commission tasked by Mbeki to determine whether HIV causes AIDS. Duesberg has found a sounding board for his views in the journal Medical Hypotheses.
Medical Hypotheses, a journal lacking peer review, has come under fire from critics. Recently under pressure from AIDS activists, two articles were retracted from the journal due to their AIDS denialist claims. One article argued that AIDS is not a problem in Africa and the second stated that data in Italy does not show HIV as the cause for AIDS.
For more information, please read the news release on the AlphaGalileo Web site or access the AIDS and Behavior journal article.