- Politics and Social Issues»
- Social Issues
What a Fool Believes
AIDS in South Africa -- What a Fool Believes
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN ON Wednesday, March 28, 2007 and updated on Sunday, May 17, 2009
In early September 2006, South Africa's Minister of Health, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was met with boos and hoots of derision at the International Conference on AIDS hosted in Toronto, Canada, when she vehemently denounced the role of antiretroviral drugs in the treatment of AIDS, and instead insisted that a diet of African potatoes, garlic, lemon, and beetroot could keep the disease under control. She made this announcement with the implicit imprimatur of the South African President, then Thabo Mbeki, who has long been an HIV denialist and who has repeatedly claimed that antiretroviral drugs are "toxic" and useless in treating AIDS.
Members of a small (but rabid) group of activists insist, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. I learned a long time ago not to argue with these people -- they have an answer for everything, and they are utterly, irretrievably set in their belief that AIDS itself either does not exist at all, or is the result of sustained recreational drugs use, or is the result of treatment of otherwise healthy people with antiretroviral drugs. In short, many members of this group insist that HIV is a harmless virus, and that AIDS is actually caused by the drugs that are prescribed by doctors who have been duped into believing that HIV causes AIDS. Members of this group insist that the entire medical establishment, bar a small number of enlightened doctors and health care professionals, is complicit in a program of extortion and murder, and that Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) causes AIDS. Stated differently, these people believe that AIDS is an iatrogenic illness, induced by the very treatments that are posited as therapeutic.
This claim is supposedly supported by a highly selective sampling and interpretation of the research data and the literature. As more and more drugs are found to be effective against HIV (the integrase inhibitors now play a key role in treating this disease, particularly in patients who have failed other regimens), the "AIDS is not cause by HIV" model has become increasingly elaborate and embarrassing in its efforts to explain away the millions of prolonged and relatively healthy lives that have been extended indefinitely by the antiretroviral drug regimens. This essay does not focus on the truthfulness of the theory that HIV cases AIDS; it accepts a priori the validity of the HIV model of AIDS. Many, many scientists and rigorous thinkers have addressed the truthfulness of the HIV model of AIDS, and this is not the forum in which the validity of this model will be explored.
Thabo Mbeki and like-minded individuals have insisted that HIV is not the true cause of AIDS, and have instead insisted that this disease is really the outcome of "colonialism" and "apartheid." Seven years ago, Mbeki gave a speech in which he stated that conventional views of AIDS causation reinforced the image of Africans as "germ carriers." He referred to the discourse in which AIDS is viewed as a medical illness caused by HIV as part of the "dark continent discourse" which he so deplores (this discourse views Africa in a very negative light, as the "dark continent" in which people are unable to subject passion to reason). After respected AIDS scientist Malegapuru Makgoba launched a salvo of embittered accusations to the effect that Mbeki was responsible for "genocide," Mbeki partially relented and agreed to distribute antiretroviral medications; however, Mbeki never renounced his view that AIDS is really caused not by HIV but by "the legacy of apartheid" and poverty.
Following the Health Minister's bizarre announcement that a diet of African potatoes, garlic, lemon, and beetroot could keep AIDS at bay, more than 60 internationally acclaimed AIDS scientists, including the putative "co-discoverer" of HIV, Dr. Robert Gallo, demanded that Mbeki fire Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, describing her in writing as an "embarrassment" who enjoyed "no international respect." How could Mbeki -- an educated man who graduated from the British University of Sussex with a Master's degree in Economics -- have fallen prey to the line of thinking, influenced by Dr. Peter Duesberg, that holds, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, that HIV is not the cause of AIDS?
There are now more than 40 drugs available to treat HIV infection -- nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), protease inhibitors (PIs), fusion inhibitors (FIs), entry inhibitors (EIs), integrase inhibitors (IIs), and adjunctive therapies such as hydroxyurea -- and more drugs become available almost every year as science evolves (one integrase inhibitor (raltegravir) was recently released, and another (elvitegravir) is currently in late-stage testing). By combining these drugs -- typically by combining protease inhibitors with reverse transcriptase inhibitors and / or non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors -- doctors in the US , the UK, Canada, European nations, and other First World nations are now able to keep patients with HIV alive more or less indefinitely. This is not to deny the reality of serious side-effects associated with HAART (including lipodystrophy, peripheral neuropathy, cardiac disease, etc.), but the bottom line is that these drugs are highly effective, when taken in strict compliance with treatment regimens, in preventing the advance of this disease, and are able to suppress HIV to the extent that the most sensitive assays commercially available are no longer capable of detecting the presence of HIV particles in the bloodstream of infected patients.
Yet in the country that now has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, the current government insists that these drugs should not be the mainstay of treatment, and instead resorts to measures that caused the scientists who authored the letter demanding the firing of South Africa's Minister of Health to write the following:
"To deny that HIV causes AIDS is farcical in the face of the scientific evidence; to promote ineffective, immoral policies on HIV/AIDS endangers lives; to have as health minister a person who now has no international respect is an embarrassment to the South African government. We therefore call for the immediate removal of Dr Tshabalala-Msimang as minister of health, and for an end to the disastrous, pseudo-scientific policies that have characterized the South African government's response to HIV/AIDS."
When confronted with criticism of his handling of HIV / AIDS treatments, Mbeki insists that his detractors are "racists" and that "traditional African medicine" is as effective, if not more so, than established, highly effective modern treatment regimens. AIDS activists and scientists were outraged by the views expressed by Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang in Toronto, and by a display of vegetables as part of the treatment for AIDS at the government stand (no antiretroviral medicines were on display). Yet Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang was selected by Mbeki to become Health Minister precisely because of her discredited and ludicrous views, and because she has expressed the view that antiretroviral medications are both dangerous and useless.
It is estimated that between one in 10 and one in five South Africans carry HIV, and in some parts of the country, doctors believe that the prevalence of this disease is much higher (one doctor I interviewed several years ago estimated that as many as one in three black men are infected in the part of the country named KwaZulu Natal).
Tellingly, those South Africans who are infected with HIV and who have access to good healthcare are all on HAART regimens (in South Africa, healthcare is offered through employers, guaranteeing that the vast majority of South African citizens lack health coverage of any sort) (unemployment currently exceeds 50%).
As this quackery masquerades as science, the health of between five and 10 million people infected with HIV continues to decline. These people will almost certainly die unless the South African government changes course immediately.
Pet Shop Boys -- King of Rome
Justice at Last -- Gay Equality in America
- Justice at Last -- Gay Equality in America
Gay Equality, the Right to Privacy, and Substantive Due Process: this essay discusses the US Supreme Court decisions that created and expanded the right to privacy, and discusses the cases of Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003)...
Gay Marriage in America (The Gathering Storm)
- Gay Marriage in America (The Gathering Storm)
This essay discusses the current status of gay marriage in America, and reveals the desperation underlying the "National Organization for Marriage" and the $1.5 million advertisement ("The Gathering Storm") (which is actually funny!)...
The Federal Courts, Gay Rights, and the People
- The Federal Courts, Gay Rights, and the People
This essay discusses the role of the federal judiciary in our system of government, and explains the concept of judicial review...
Gay Rights in America
- Gay Rights in America
This essay describes the manner in which gay sex between men is singled out for harsher treatment by many heterosexual men than is gay sex between women. This essay also discusses US Supreme Court decisions and the impact of gay marriage on religion.
The Supreme Court, Gay Rights, and Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
- The Supreme Court, Gay Rights, and Lawrence v. Texas
This essay discusses the US Supreme Court and the damage it did to gay Americans in handing down Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), as well as the manner in which this Court overruled Bowers and apologized to gay Americans in Lawrence v. Texas (2003)...
Gay Americans and the US Supreme Court
- Gay Americans and the US Supreme Court
This essay discusses the homophobia that informed the US Supreme Court decision Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), and how gay Americans turned to state supreme courts to strike down sodomy laws until the US Supreme Court handed down Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
Homophobia -- Fear and Loathing in Florida
- Homophobia -- Fear and Loathing in Florida
This essay discusses the behavior of school officials at Ponce de Leon High School, and the manner in which the school principal trampled the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of gay and gay-supportive students at this school...
Gay Equality, Homophobia, and Another Country
- Gay Equality, Homophobia, and Another Country
This essay discusses and compares social and legal attitudes towards homosexuality in the US and the UK, emphasizing the greater degree of acceptance of gay persons in the UK...
Gay Americans and the Federal Hate Crimes Act
- Gay Americans and the Federal Hate Crimes Act
This essay discusses the truth behind the lies told about the proposed federal hate crimes act, and presents a truthful analysis of the real impact that this measure would have on religious bodies and individuals (it would have no impact)...
Indiana Disgraces America (Homophobia)
- Indiana Disgraces America (Homophobia)
Megan Chase -- a sophomore at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School in northeastern Indiana -- wrote an article stressing the need to refrain from judging other people merely because they are different. The school newspaper's advisor...
Religion, Gay Americans, and the Law
- Religion, Gay Americans, and the Law
This essay discusses the impact of high court decisions upholding laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation on religious organizations that offer public services (and are thus bound by anti-discrimination statutes)...
Mormons Meddle and Destroy Marriage
- Mormons Meddle and Destroy Marriage
This article discusses the manner in which members of the LDS participated in the campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California, thereby nullifying the effect of the California Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in that state...
Loving the Sinner but Hating the Sin (But What is the Sin?)
- Loving the Sinner but Hating the Sin (But What is the Sin?)
This essay debunks the illusion that is is possible for a person to love gay people but not the actual expression of their sexual orientation; the one is inextricably intertwined with the other, just as a person's race is an indelible part of him...
I Feel, Therefore I Hate (Internalized Homophobia)
- I Feel Therefore I Hate
This essay discusses the evidence that homophobic men are often struggling with their own sexual orientation, and are often closeted homosexuals...
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
- Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
This essay debunks the claims made by Paul Cameron and other right-wing commentators, who claim that gay men have shorter lifespans that straight men, that gay men suffer more diseases, etc.
Initial Victory in California (Discussion of the Court's Reasoning)
- Initial Victory in California
This essay was written BEFORE Proposition 8 was enacted; it discusses the legal analysis invoked by the California Supreme Court majority in the historic gay marriage case in that state (in re Marriage Cases, S147999 (2008))
California Gay Marriage Case
- California Gay Marriage Case
This essay was written BEFORE Proposition 8 was enacted; it discusses in greater detail the legal analysis invoked by the California Supreme Court majority in the historic gay marriage case (in re Marriage Cases, S147999 (2008))
Gay Marriage Gains Ground in America
- Gay Marriage Gains Ground in America
This essay discusses recent judicial and legislative victories in the fight for marriage equality, including recent developments that have changed the terms of the debate (including legislation in New England, passed without judicial prompting)...