Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy

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Friday, June 24, 2011

South Africa: AIDS conspiracy believers less likely to condomise

Thirty years after the discovery of AIDS, conspiracy theories that posit the virus as man-made continue to enjoy support among a segment of South African youth - and these beliefs may be putting them at greater risk of HIV infection. 

A representative survey of more than 3,000 South Africans between the ages of 20 and 29 years in the greater Cape Town area has found that black South Africans were eight times more likely to believe AIDS conspiracy theories, specifically that scientists engineered HIV. 

Among black respondents, 20 percent believed that HIV was man-made and created by scientists as an attack on people of African descent, according to a University of Cape Town (UCT) study. 

New research by Nicoli Nattrass, director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit at UCT, also found that AIDS conspiracy believers are 50 percent less likely to report having used a condom the last time they had sex than non-believers. Respondents with traditional values, and those who had lower socio-economic status but were not religious, were more likely to believe there was a conspiracy. 

The Nattrass research, co-authored with colleague, Eduard Grebe and presented at the 1st HIV Social Sciences and Humanities Conference in Durban, South Africa, also showed that people who had heard of the Treatment Action Campaign(TAC), a South African AIDS lobby group, were much less likely to believe a conspiracy existed and twice as likely to use condoms. 

"We picked up the effect of TAC in counteracting conspiracy theories," Nattrass told IRIN/PlusNews. "It's another way to show the importance of civil society resistance to the [former] government." 

TAC strenuously opposed not only South Africa’s former health minister, Dr MantoTshabalala-Msimang, but also former South African President Thabo Mbeki over their AIDS denialism and his administration's delay in rolling out HIV treatment. 

AIDS conspiracy origins 

The research will be included in a forthcoming book by Nattrass on the effects and history of AIDS conspiracy theories, and their origins as a Cold War propaganda tool by the East German state security service, known as Stasi, and the national security agency of the former Soviet Union, the KGB. 

The conspiracy theories were then taken up by right-wing white supremacists in the US and expounded in a book, "Behold the Pale Horse", excerpts of which were circulated by Tshabalala-Msimang to her nine provincial counterparts, according to Nattrass. 

Given the deep distrust of Western science, and the history of racial oppression of African Americans and black South Africans, Nattrass said it was understandable that the prevalence of AIDS conspiracy beliefs would be higher in segments of both these populations. 

"There's definitely a racialized aspect to this," Nattrass told IRIN/PlusNews. "Most anthropologists tend to look at it as a narrative of resistance against stigmatization; against imperialist discourses by policy-makers." 

In a review of existing research on the prevalence of AIDS conspiracy beliefs by Nattrass, up to 80 percent of surveyed African-American respondents believed HIV was man-made. US studies have found a strong link between AIDS conspiracy theories and lack of condom use, not testing for HIV and not adhering to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. In South Africa such theories have been associated with never testing for HIV. 

Conspiracy theories may have gained traction in South Africa after the apartheid government's biological warfare programme, code named "Project Coast", was exposed. Local newspapers dubbed the former head of South Africa’s secret chemical and biological warfare project, Dr Wouter Basson, as "Dr Death” for his alleged role in the deaths of anti-apartheid activists, and he was eventually tried but acquitted of murder due to insufficient evidence in 2001. 

Nattrass said the revelations about government-sponsored biological warfare programmes had made the notion of a man-made virus more believable to some. 

“There’s some very nice ethnography work that shows that the stories that were put out by the press [at the time of Basson’s trial] were picked up in certain communities and twisted to form [theories like], ‘Well it must have been Wouter Basson, who, together with the Americans, was part of creating HIV in South Africa.” 
But Nattrass cautioned that history wasn’t everything, and that leaders such as TAC, Tshabalala-Msimang, and former President Thabo Mbeki, also played a role in shaping people’s beliefs. 

Survey respondents who had heard of TAC were less likely to believe myths and more likely to use condoms, yet participants of any race who said they trusted Tshabalala-Msimang were three times as likely to believe AIDS conspiracy theories. 

Former President Thabo Mbeki’s denialist stance has also fuelled local conspiracy theories. Drawing on the work of prominent AIDS denialists, Mbeki questioned whether HIV causes AIDS, arguing that a variety of other factors, including poverty, were to blame. 

In 2000 he told members of the ruling African National Congress party that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), working with large pharmaceutical companies, was part of a conspiracy to promote the view that HIV causes AIDS. 

His distrust of ARV medicines delayed plans for the widespread public rollout of the life-prolonging drugs until November 2003, despite years of research establishing that they reduced AIDS-related deaths. 

HIV testing, treatment 

In a discussion on the research, Prof Alan Whiteside, director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, suggested that people reporting low condom use might say they believed AIDS conspiracy theories to justify their low condom use. 

Nattrass agreed that there was a correlation between these beliefs and low condom use, but said it was not necessarily a cause-and-effect scenario. 

"Several recent studies show that there's an association between believing in conspiracies and reduced likelihood of using condoms, or having an HIV test or adhering to antiretrovirals," said Clara Rubincam, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, who conducted related research with focus-group participants drawn from the Nattrass sample. 

"Given the relevance of conspiracy theories to the successful design of HIV prevention and treatment, it's important to study the extent to which they are believed, and why they continue to be believed," Rubincam told IRIN/PlusNews. 

The focus group discussions revealed that while many participants thought HIV was man-made, many others attributed South Africa's HIV epidemic to behaviour and socio-economic factors such as poverty, which they felt made more people vulnerable to HIV. 

Many also did not understand the science of HIV treatment, mistakenly thinking that HIV prevention methods like prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) indicated the availability of a "cure" for HIV. 

Rubincam said there may be a need to better explain how PMTCT prevents, but does not cure, HIV infection in babies born to HIV-positive mothers, so as to dispel such misconceptions. 

"It's tempting to believe that... perhaps with the end of the Mbeki administration, the problems of AIDS denialism and conspiracy theorising might be over," Rubincam commented. "That doesn't seem to be the case." 


  1. Race, poverty and history have all worked together to form a perfect storm of distrust and deceit. It is unfortunate that the AIDS Denialists of America so aggressively sought to add fuel to the flame. America is often looked up to as a leader in many ways. Unfortunately, as with the example of Duesberg, Maggiore etc, Americans can manipulate others into a deadly belief that outlasts even the liars themselves.

    American AIDS Denialists prey on the weak, the poor and even women. Just look at the two biggest high profile Denialist Deaths of the last few years: both women. Even when you look at those leading this aggression of lies and deceit, it is the sick and less educated. is a great example.

    It's sad and unfortunate that even this is an evolutionary process. I just wonder how many more people have to die at the hands of these AIDS Denialists? I also wonder if they will ever feel culpable?

  2. It really shows how shallow your arguments are in this arena when you have to resort to censorship and cherry picking to make any sort of point. Surprising really as you ride on the coat tails of "denialism" a term coined over the holocaust and yet even as Jewish person you resort to Nazi inspired information management tactics. Shame on you Seth for following in the steps of Goebels. Sieg Heil to you.

  3. Concerned CitizenJuly 1, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    Seth's a Nazi is hilarious. Why is it that he/she does not provide any specifics? He/she provides no details. But the analogy of AIDS Denial with Holocaust Denial is very accurate. Non-believers of both are identical in intelligence as well as tactics. Thanks for representing both!

  4. Wow - seems like these ridiculous rants follow in the step of Clarkie who in his latest post says to people:

    "never take an HIV test and never talk to health department officials. They are not your friends and they don’t care about public health."

  5. Well in a different time Seth would have been standing on the platform choosing who goes to the left or right.

  6. The crazies are out.
    Correct me if I am wrong, but Duesberg's father was a true Nazi, whether he likes it or not. He must have inherited his narcissistic arrogance and discard for human suffering from his daddy.

  7. The only "Nazis" are the denialists who send HIV+ patients to their graves early by spouting off nonsense in the likes of Farber, Duesberg, Clarkie, etc. There are countless lists of the victims who fell prey to these animals - most recently Karri Stokely.
    Bravo to Seth for continuing to expose these nuts and keep this site going to warn potential victims of the crazies!

  8. Some of your posts on the internet expose you as at best being narrow minded and ignorant and at worst being a part of the mainstream propaganda machine that has convinced misinformed and uninformed well meaning people that AIDS is caused by HIV.

    If you had read Duesberg's book "Inventing the AIDS Virus" you wouldn't be so ignorant.
    You say he has no proof or documentation for his perspective and I say to you that the AIDS Industry has ZERO proof or documentation that HIV causes anything.
    Wake up and open your mind.
    Stop being another 'sheople'...."

  9. Al:
    So you are saying pretty much all of medicine, infectious disease, and basic science is "misinformed and uninformed"? And your "evidence" is a book that is widely regarded as a fraud?

    Oh - you must be the "enlightened" one, right? Yeah...Hey - don't forget the tinfoil to put on your head for your next Tea-Bagger rally!
    Bachmann/Palin 2012!!!

  10. I feel so threatened by the best that science can throw up against me. Several fake dogs with no qualifications and a dodgy name spelt backwards.

    Must be some kind of consensus going on there, oh you crack me up you fake douche bags, sentinels of AIDSTRUTH and beyond.

    Even the Wiki drones use fake names to poison the wells of science, Mastcell Keepcalmand carryon et al.

  11. Concerned CitizenJuly 6, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    Is "We See YOu" on your birth certificate? Hypocrite Loser Idiot must be your middle name.

    Now, do you have anything of substance to add to this article about AIDS Denialists continuing to kill Africans?

  12. Is that the dead Africans according to the actual government of South Africa's bureau of statistics numbers.


    Is that the dead Africans according to the pharma-funded best guestimate as used by Seth Kalichman and Co?

    You really have to be specific, unlike the proteins used in the African AIDS tests of course which aren't specific to much at all. They certainly cross react with dollar bills though.

    Then again you could show me the proof that HIV causes AIDS. Give me the link to the CDC which then takes me to the anonymous paper at AIDSTRUTH, no doubt compiled by a couple of fake dogs without qualifications and a name spelt backwards again.

    It's interesting that you never reference the 4 science papers by Gallo and Popovic, even though they are the foundation of all AIDS science since. The excuse......we've learnt so much more since then. But if I may ask the question, "Just what did you know then to make the diagnosis and prescription of monotherapy AZT with?"

    But now of course we know more about HIV than any other virus in history. We just don't know how it infects or kills T-Cells. And we can prove that with the photo we don't have of a wild virion in anyone at anytime in 30 years.


  13. JIM, if those Africans didn't die of AIDS, where did they go? Are they hiding on a secret desert island somewhere?

  14. notElon:
    Those Africans all secretly joined the prestigious post office box of medical and scientific justice!

  15. Duh notElon, the population of all African nations is increasing, for you that means betting BIGGER, this in the grip of a pandemic fatal disease.

    What you don't realise or fail to comprehend with your 2 neuron capacity is that HIV does not equal AIDS or there would be a lot more dead Africans out there.

    Now even if we use your own logic and figures just for arguments sake then we have 33 million HIV positives, and we've had them for the best part of 25 years. Now AIDS has a latency of 7 to 10 years in the untreated and we know that the vat majority of those 33 million are untreated then we should have literally piles and piles of bodies yearly. So just exactly where are they dip shit??????

    The actuarial (the official ones) figures of mortality in Africa just don't match your own predictions or guesses. In fact that gets to the point of the whole matter, not a single HIV/AIDS prediction has panned out, nada, nyet, zip.

  16. Concerned CitizenJuly 9, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    Do you really think that just because births outnumber deaths that means there is no such thing as AIDS in Africa?

    How about a little bit more of your logic? Here we go: If AIDS has a latency period of 7 to 10 years and a baby only has a gestation period of 9 months, maybe then you can see why births would out number deaths. Hey, it squares with your "logic".

  17. CC, average latency for progression is said to be 7 to 10 years (adult infection). In babies it is far less so no, your logic isn't igniting my imagination.

    And in any country where there has been a sustained pandemic for this long and under your guestimates 1 in 5 to 1 in 8 are infected and untreated then at this point 12.5% to 20% of those populations should be dying solely of AIDS now...........yep you guessed it, they arent', not anywhere. Mortality rates are remaining somewhat constant. You can fudge the figures all you want but it is the truth.

    Now it must be notElons turn as your usual tactic is to bat alternate sets in the match.

    Although quite frankly I think CC and NE are still SK in one of his alter egos, or was that Joe Newton John, Newton the dog etc etc, it's hard keeping up with your multiple personalities, I'm surprised you get any time to use your own name with all that chattering in your head Seth.

    Any how, I've got important stuff to do now, like sort out my sock drawer, I'll probably find a few AIDS sock puppets in there. But really having a discussion with fake dogs with self admittedly no formal qualifications, fake names with the same qualifications using alternate probing tactics all emanating from the same website of a community social psychologist who is paid via a grants system from the NIH to run this trite little blog is actually a total waste of my time.

    Have yourselves a nice little life, twisted as it is.

    Adios Cabron

  18. Who needs any fancy-type things like "ejumucation" when you can just spout self-taught "logic" like, "births outnumber deaths" so HIV does not cause AIDS.

    I'm going to go out on a limb here... do you also think Michelle Bachman is a "genius"?

  19. KralcRekabnwolcssaJuly 15, 2011 at 12:10 AM

    Check out this new site!!!

  20. Jim says
    "under your guestimates 1 in 5 to 1 in 8 are infected and untreated then at this point 12.5% to 20% of those populations should be dying solely of AIDS now...........yep you guessed it, they arent', not anywhere. Mortality rates are remaining somewhat constant."

    Say what??

    Reported all-cause mortality in South Africa nearly doubled between 1997 and 2006, from 317,132 to 612,778.

    That's "somewhat constant" mortality?

    Among the groups hardest hit by HIV/AIDS - young adults especially women - the increase in mortality is particularly horrific. According to Statistics South Africa:

    "The increase in age-specific death rates from natural causes for females age 25-34 of more than fivefold between 1997 and 2004 is astounding."

    What kind of brainless twit are you to read a doubling annual deaths in the country overall and a fivefold increase in natural deaths among young women over seven years as "Mortality rates are remaining somewhat constant"?

  21. Snout: I'll tell you what kind of a brainless twit would do that:
    (1) The type of person who would type an article that says "Appellate Court Reverses HIV conviction" when the posted article says some very different background information (
    (2) The type of person with no training or background in science, epidemiology, or even a basic college education.
    (3) An obvious denialist who has narcissistic issues and is self-loathing.
    (4) A liar.

    The above criteria apply to people like Clark Baker, Celia Farber, and the Peter Duesberg legion of brainless idiots who have psychiatric issues and can't admit their own errors. Interestingly enough, there tends to be a strong correlation with these clowns, and the tea-party, right-wing, fascist nuts (just read a little about the clown "Clarkie Baker").

    They will always come up with falsities, lies, and weak pseudo-justifications for their bullshit conspiracy theories. It helps them get through the day.

  22. If Clark Baker exemplifies denialists, then they are their own worst enemies.

  23. Actually, I thought the "cabron" epithet was a bit of a giveaway.

  24. I would say something in his defense, but Jim doesn't think I exist.

  25. I wonder if Baker will claim the "reverse ruling" as another victory for HIV Innocence Group/Project? Let's look to see if he adds:

    "Bradenton Woman" to his bullshit list!

  26. That Bradenton case may not be a victory for Clark Baker, but it is strange. To clarify, the woman get off because sex in Florida is defined as "as vaginal sex between a man and a woman". Does that apply to other areas of Florida law, too, or just HIV crimes?

  27. Hey notElon, just what is the transmission risk between 2 women? as in this case. C'mon you fake drone gives us a referenced paper on that one.

  28. How would I know, and what does it matter? Were it 100%, the statute would still preclude the woman from being charged. Did you even read the story?

  29. It must be sad to be looking down the barrel of irrelevance.

  30. @gcMAF:

    It sure is. That's why Clarkie Baker goes nuts. He can't handle it.

  31. Kralc, your neurotic hatred of Clark smells suspiciously like J Todd DeShong. How about you crawl back under your test tube washing stand over at Baylor Health Systems. You know they don't like you talking in public.

  32. @gcMAF:

    Nice for you to rear your irrelevance, Clarkie!!! I know you think you are some sort of detective, but, as usual - you are wrong. I am not Todd. However, in Todd's defense, at least he is employed, unlike you, who lives with an elderly lady as a second-rate gigolo.

  33. Ok, here's a question I have. Why are there so many alleged heterosexual cases of AIDS in Africa but so few in the West? Female to male transmission of HIV is very unusual in the United States. Isn't it possible that sharing contaminated syringes and gay sex may be vastly under reported in Africa?

  34. While it's possible there might be some underreporting of blood contacts and male to male sex, it's pretty clear that heterosexual transmission is the main infection mode in the countries with generalised HIV epidemics.

    There is no single simple reason for the higher rates of female to male transmission which are necessary to sustain chains of heterosexual transmission. Usually it is a confluence of multiple factors, including:

    1. the prevalent subtype of HIV - subtype C appears to transmit more readily from female to male, and is the dominant subtype in most places where heterosexual transmission is highest, unlike North America, Australia and Western Europe, where subtype B predominates.

    2. concurrent partnerships and sex work: HIV transmission rates are highest soon after infection, and women in such situations are more likely to be able to pass on the infection to other uninfected partners.

    3. circumcision rates - circumcised men are less likely to be infected heterosexually than uncircumcised men.

    4. intercurrent infections, particularly rates of genital ulcer diseases.

    5. rates of testing and diagnosis - people who know they are infected with HIV are less likely to pass it on than people who don't know.

    Obviously, the rate of new infections depends on the existing prevalence, and the chances of a man being infected after unprotected sex with a random woman in South Africa is far higher than with a random American woman, given there's about a 150-fold difference in the female prevalence.

    This of course begs the question of how the South African prevalence got so high in the first place. The answer is that it took many years of sustained official neglect: antenatal seroprevalence was "only" 0.7% in 1990, and took 15 years to get to its peak of over 30% in 2005.

    HIV/AIDS denialists and other conspiracy theorists from Australia and North America are partly responsible for facilitating that neglect, especially during the Mbeki/Manto era.

    Which is why so many of us have little tolerance for people who still want to promote HIV/AIDS denialism in 2011.