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September 10, 1998

AIDS Dissent

The Untold Story

People ask me why, if I'm not gay, don't do drugs, and steer clear of doctors, I take such an interest in the AIDS issue. The answer is that true science, the process of distinguishing what's probably true from what probably isn't, has always interested me, and the extremes to which the dictating by political and economic interests of what is permissible as scientific truth that we see with AIDS is, I believe, symptomatic of much that's wrong with today's institutionalized science.

Neville Hodgkinson was formerly a reporter for the Sunday Times of London, where he wrote a series of stories challenging the HIV theory. After a change of editors, he left the paper and wrote a book, AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science (See BB ARCHIVES, AIDS)

The following article by Hodgkinson appeared in the magazine The European, June 22, 1998, Page 30, prior to the World Aids Conference in Geneva. Though now a little dated as far as the conference is concerned, it summarizes the dissident case so well that I thought it worth reproducing.

[Begin article by Neville Hodgkinson]

ON 28 June, scientists at the 12th World Aids Conference in Geneva will hear arguments that a modern dogma, almost universally accepted, is flawed in a fundamental and dangerous way. This is the idea, first propounded at an international press conference in the United States in April 1984 and adopted almost immediately worldwide, that the cause of Aids is a deadly virus, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

The theory seemed validated scientifically when Dr Robert Gallo, of the US National Institutes of Health, published four long papers in a single issue of the journal Science purporting to have identified the new virus as the primary cause of Aids and to have produced a diagnostic test for it. The hypothesis became the basis of an industry that has since received tens of billions of dollars for research and treatment in Europe and North America, with more than $45 billion contributed by US taxpayers alone. Gallo's apparent discovery was hailed as adding "another miracle to the long honour roll of American medicine and science", although it was to herald a worldwide panic over sex, with predictions that millions would die as the virus surreptitiouslyspread.

Yet according to a group of scientists who are for the first time being given an opportunity to put their ideas before the world Aids community, basic checks needed to establish the nature and even the existence of such a virus were never completed. Evidence accumulated by these critics indicates that genetic and biochemical signals that gave rise to the HIV theory are better understood as arising from within the body's immune cells, rather than as a consequence of invasion by a deadly new microbe.

Various prolonged stresses on the body can cause these signals to appear. They include infection by a range of known germs; exposure to other people's bodily fluids such as blood and semen; and assaults on the body by some medical and recreational drugs. Malnutrition also plays a part, especially in parts of Asia and Africa, because it greatly increases vulnerability to chronic infections such as tuberculosis and leprosy that also cause a person to test "HIV" positive.

According to this view, antibodies detected in the blood with the "HIV" test are non-specific: they do not mean a person is infected with a particular virus that is slowly destroying their immune system. The test should therefore be scrapped. The same is true of so-called "viral counts", technology that picks up altered levels of certain genetic sequences in the body. This genetic activity is connected with immune system activation but has never been shown to relate to a specific virus. The multi-billion-dollar effort to develop drugs or a vaccine targeting "HIV" should be reappraised, as it is unlikely to get to the root of the problem of Aids and may have been adding to the suffering of victims.

In short, "HIV" is a myth, along with many of the beliefs accompanying the theory. The pictures of the virus that have appeared around the world are artists' impressions and computer simulations, based on indirect observations by molecular biologists, not isolation of the virus itself.

The scientist at the centre of this amazing critique is Eleni Eleopulos, of the department of medical physics, Royal Perth Hospital, in Western Australia. An expert on cell oxidation, she recognised 14 years ago that the phenomena claimed to show the presence of a new virus in Aids might instead be arising from mechanisms of cell stress. She has been researching the issue ever since.

Eleopulos is supported by Dr Valendar Turner, an emergency physician who has also dedicated years of work to an analysis of Aids science; Dr David Causer, Eleopulos's head of department; and Dr John Papadimitriou, professor of pathology at the University of Western Australia, an internationally renowned expert on electron microscopy. All four are to present their case, via a satellite link-up from Perth, in a two-hour symposium at the world conference entitled "HIV Testing: Open Questions Regarding Specificity".

Dr Etienne de Harven, former professor of pathology at the University of Toronto, who pioneered a method of purifying viruses during 25 years' work at the Sloan Kettering Institute in New York, is also taking part in the symposium. Now based in France, he agrees with Eleopulos's dramatic claim that HIV researchers have failed to demonstrate the existence of "HIV" in Aids patients. Recent attempts to make good this omission, with electron microscope studies that should have been done 22 years ago, produced "disastrous" results, he says, suggesting "billions of research dollars gone up in smoke".

Other participants will include Dr Stefan Lanka, a German virologist who has also argued against the HIV hypothesis; Huw Christie, editor of Continuum (See BB ARCHIVES: AIDS SKEPTICISM), a UK- based Aids magazine which has offered a 1,000 "missing virus" award to the first person finding a scientific paper establishing actual isolation of HIV; and science journalist Joan Shenton, author of Positively False, a recent book about controversies surrounding HIV and Aids. (See BB ARCHIVES, AIDS

[Details of conference organization omitted]

The implications of the challenge are enormous, in commercial as well as human terms. The US Patent and Trademark Office has awarded more than 1,500 patents based on the belief that HIV is both real and dangerous. Companies producing tests that screen blood for evidence of HIV and its purported effects on immune system cells make millions of dollars yearly. New tests are now being marketed for estimating levels of genetic activity attributed to HIV - so-called "viral load" assays. The latest thinking is that an "HIV-positive" person should be tested in this way four times a year.

Although Aids cases are plummeting in many parts of the world, sales growth is anticipated in this area of managing what has come to be known as "HIV disease". Sales of diagnostic and monitoring kits totalled $186 million in 1995 in the US alone and were predicted to rise by 50 per cent within five years.

Still more lucrative is the rapidly growing market for combinations of expensive drugs claimed to be therapeutic in "HIV disease", such as Glaxo Wellcome's Combivir, approved by the European Commission this year. Sales are not just directed towards Aids patients but to the much larger groups who, according to the orthodox view, are in the grip of a viral illness that is slowly wearing down their immune system years before symptoms develop. By last year, cumulative worldwide sales of Glaxo Wellcome's AZT, the first "anti-HIV therapy", had exceeded $2.5 billion, despite severe concerns about itstoxicity.

Aids grew into a multi-billion-dollar business when it was claimed in the mid-1980s that the virus "does not discriminate" and that it would be only a matter of time before it swept through the world's sexually active populations. The huge investment of money and energy made it difficult for ideas about the nature of the illness to change. Government and industry scientists, as well as public health officials, Aids advocacy groups, journal editors and specialist correspondents became defensive.

The response to the first major critique of the HIV theory, by Dr Peter Duesberg, professor of molecular biology at the University of California at Berkeley, was bewilderment, followed by fury. Duesberg had been voted Californian Scientist of the Year for his discoveries in the field of retroviruses (of which HIV is supposed to be one). He argued in 1987 that HIV could not be doing the damage attributed to it, because it was so difficult to find in the body, even in a person dying of Aids. He postulated that an explosion in the use of recreational drugs during the 1970s was probably the main cause of Aids. He was first ignored and then pilloried for persisting with his views. He lost a $350,000 "outstanding investigator" award and became an embarrassment to his university, which, while unable to fire him, reduced him to chairing its annual picnic committee. The past 10 years have shown Duesberg to have been right on several counts. He stated that HIV could not kill immune cells, that Aids would not become a heterosexual epidemic and that the anti-viral drug AZT would kill rather than cure. On all three issues, the evidence has gone his way.

The Perth group's still more fundamental challenge to the HIV theory, despite its almost incredible contradiction to received wisdom, fits the facts even better than Duesberg's. It bypasses one of the principal objections to Duesberg's position: the close relationship, confirmed in numerous studies, between testing HIV-positive and risk of illness. According to Eleopulos, the relationship is real, even though HIV is not. When antibodies are present in the blood at levels that cause a person to test positive, this may well indicate an abnormal immune system state. However, the abnormalities are not caused by "HIV" but by factors in patients' lives that overstimulate their immune cells. These factors may be either toxic or infectious in nature. Sometimes the stimuli are only temporary - even a dose of flu, or a course of flu jabs, can cause a positive result. Longer-lasting assaults are the ones that may trigger a process leading to Aids.

In a huge review article published in Bio/Technology, a sister journal to Nature, Eleopulos and her colleagues argued that none of the HIV tests marketed was ever properly validated by showing that protein reagents used to detect "HIV" antibodies really were connected to the virus. The reason this validation was never performed, they say, is that it proved impossible to isolate the virus from patients. The main means of attempting to confirm the usefulness of the tests was to show that antibodies which react with the test proteins were much more likely to be found in Aids patients and people at risk of Aids than in healthy people. However, all of those so-called "HIV" markers have been shown to have other sources within the body, so even if HIV existed the antibodies could not be said to signify its presence.

Huge confusion has been created by this situation. One review of the medical literature found no fewer than 70 different disease conditions, often involving an auto- immune response, documented as capable of triggering a positive result with the test.

If the scientists who maintain that "HIV" is a myth are right, their analysis holds a crucial message of hope for people who have tested positive. It means that, depending on how much damage has been caused, a person's immune system may return to a normal, healthy state providing the compromising factors are removed. This explains why millions of "positive" people have stayed well for years, especially in poor countries unable to afford the anti-viral drugs, contrary to predictions based on the "deadly virus" view.

Even Africa, subjected by western scientists, Aids agencies and the media to years of stories of impending doom because of HIV, may be beginning to emerge from the nightmare as it becomes widely understood that the predictions were wrong. A recent Time cover story, "Africa Rising", acknowledged that "after decades of famine and war, life is finally looking up for many Africans." In 11 pages, there was not one mention of HIV or Aids. New African magazine, which circulates across the continent, has called for an international inquiry to establish the truth about Aids. It says "alarmist and exaggerated" forecasts made by western experts, supported by the World Health Organisation, have done immeasurable harm to African confidence and the way Africans are seen abroad.

Tragically, there is much evidence that the "HIV" diagnosis itself has killed many. Apart from causing suicides and other deaths related to the psychological stress involved, the diagnosis led doctors to prescribe highly toxic drugs to try to defeat the virus. Some of the most experienced physicians, such as Dr Donald Abrams, professor of medicine and director of the Aids programme at San Francisco General Hospital, have begun to awaken to the disaster. In a lecture to medical students of the University of California at San Francisco, reported in their magazine, Synapse, Abrams said: "People who have chosen not to take any antiretrovirals ... watched all of their friends go on the antiviral bandwagon and die."

For the most part, the Aids mainstream has maintained silence about these and many other findings that undermine the "HIV" beliefs. When pressed, the typical response has been to assert that only a handful of "maverick" scientists are questioning the orthodoxy. Most professionals have had little opportunity to know any different, because the main journals refused access to their pages. Professor Gordon Stewart, a British public health expert and former World Health Organisation adviser, concluded as far back as 1985 that lifestyle and behaviour factors were probably central to Aids. His predictions about the pattern of the epidemic proved more accurate than those based on the virus theory. However, years of efforts to persuade Nature and the Royal Society, the national academy of science for the UK, to publish his analyses came to nothing.

In fact, thousands of scientists and Aids experts around the world have concluded that the "lethal virus" theory of Aids is inadequate. Several hundred of these, including two Nobel prize winners, have gone public on the issue. Through an organisation called the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV/Aids Hypothesis, set up six years ago, they have been pressing the scientific community to re-examine the cause or causes of Aids. Support for this call is growing as a result of the construction of two dissident websites. One of these (http://www.virusmyth.com) contains more than 250 articles.

The webmaster is Robert Laarhoven, a Dutch Aids analyst who four years ago was ejected from the 10th World Aids Conference in Berlin after he persisted in setting out literature concerning the dissident case on an unused table. He was threatened with arrest and expulsion from Germany if he returned. Gay activists who set fire to some of the literature were left unimpeded. Will it be different this time, in Geneva? While the conference executive's decision to allow Ifas a platform is welcome, much will depend on whether both lay and scientific delegates are sufficiently wearied by the failings of the HIV theory to contemplate an alternative.

Unease over the state of Aids science is certainly growing. The last World Aids Conference, two years ago in Vancouver, Canada, was dominated by jubilant claims that new pharmaceutical cocktails, including a class of drugs called protease inhibitors, were dramatically beneficial in some cases of Aids. A "Lazarus effect" was reported, in which patients were said to be rising from their sickbeds and returning to productive life. There were hopes that these aggressive combination therapies, costing around $20,000 a year (including the cost of the "viral counts" that accompany them), could eliminate HIV from some patients.

Last year, a different story was emerging. HIV, it was now stated, mutated so fast that it was evading the pharmaceutical onslaught. It also had "hiding places" in the body. "Despite new Aids drugs, many still lose the battle", the New York Times reported in August. From Germany, doctors stated that "... the favourable results from controlled studies with antiretroviral drugs containing protease inhibitors cannot simply be translated into everyday clinical practice". Even the most passionate advocates of the new approaches have admitted there is "one dark cloud on the horizon", as a report in The Lancet put it: human behaviour. Up to a half of patients find it impossible to swallow all their pills as prescribed, becoming "treatment failures". This is not just because of the complicated regimen, involving taking around 20 tablets a day. Bizarre and dangerous side-effects are beginning to emerge. "These reports tell us that protease inhibitors are not as specific in their effects on the virus as we thought," said Dr John Mellors, of the University of Pittsburgh, at a conference in February this year. "They also hit the patient."

Recent claims in the New England Journal of Medicinethat rapid falls in Aids cases and deaths are attributable to the use of themore intensive drug treatments were not based on a scientific trial but on astudy wide open to bias. Besides, the falls began well before the new treatmentswere introduced.

Aids doctors earnestly want to find something to show for the billions of dollars put into the HIV theory, but their desperation is clouding their judgment, according to some scientists. Dr David Rasnick, a biochemist and US Aids researcher who worked with protease inhibitors for 20 years, pointed out last year that none of the recently lauded drugs in that class approved by the US Food and Drug Administration had completed a full clinical trial. Instead, trials are stopped before potential problems emerge. For example, a 1,200-person trial was halted prematurely in February last year because there were 18 deaths in a group receiving two anti-viral drugs, compared with only eight deaths in a group receiving three, including a protease inhibitor. This result was presented as meaning the protease inhibitor cocktail reduces deaths by half but even the trial leader admitted that with 1,200 people being studied, the difference had not reached statistical significance. Much the same happened with AZT, the first alleged "gold standard" of Aids treatment: in a four-year Anglo-French study it was shown to be bringing a 25 per cent rise in deaths in those receiving the drug compared with those given a placebo.

Contrary to the impression given by the media, there are now thousands of dissenters to the HIV theory. It took root in the medical mind only 22 years ago but on its basis more than 100,000 papers have been published. Much courage and humility will be needed by the medical profession to look at it afresh. The longer the arguments over virus isolation and the validity of the test remain unacknowledged, the greater the potential crisis for medical science.

Will Geneva rise to this challenge? Or will it insist, as a former editor of Nature has done of the HIV hypothesis, that "there is no other and thus no choice"?

[End of article by Nevill Hodgkinson]

 
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