How Many HIV Positives Stay Healthy?

Dear Christine,

How many people with HIV eventually develop AIDS? How many have long-term good health in spite of being HIV positive? Of these, how many take AIDS drugs?



Dear Al,

Unfortunately, there are still no studies that provide this kind of information and there are a number of difficulties inherent in trying to gather such data. One of the most daunting obstacles is sponsorship.

Most AIDS studies assume HIV is a universally fatal infection and no public funding is available for studies that bring this assumption into question. Many studies are conducted or underwritten by drug companies attempting to gain approval for new AIDS treatment. Such entities would not benefit from a study showing notable percentages of HIV positives experiencing normal health. A study showing significant numbers of HIV positives living in health for decades without AIDS drugs could raise serious challenges not only to the notion that "treatment = life" but also to the HIV = AIDS paradigm itself.

Another problem with quantifying people who test HIV positive and do not "progress" to AIDS is that having a diagnosis of AIDS no longer requires actually being sick. Since 1993, doctors can diagnose AIDS based solely on laboratory markers, even in HIV positives with no clinical symptoms or actual illness. Such clinically healthy individuals make up at least 50% of all new AIDS diagnoses recorded each year since 1993, and this non-illness AIDS definition is the only reason why the numbers of AIDS cases haven't dropped even lower than they have already. The non-illness definition also prevents an untold number of clinically healthy HIV positives from being included in studies on health as lab markers are not only used to designate AIDS, but also to determine health.

Take for example the study of long-term healthy HIV positives conducted by Dr. Susan Buchbinder in San Francisco that excludes HIV positives with a lab count of less than 500 T cells. An HIV positive friend who's been naturally healthy since the mid 80's could not participate in her study because his last T cell count was under 500. Although he has not had any serious illness or AIDS defining condition in the more than 15 years since testing positive, he cannot be included as a long-term healthy HIV positive because according to Buchbinder, he's not healthy.

Adherence to the T cell rule of AIDS diagnosing persists despite the fact that not enough is known about T cells. For example, we don't know what T cells are in HIV negative hemophiliacs, HIV negative transfusion recipients, HIV negative IV drug users, HIV negative gay men with histories of drug use and multiple STDs, or other negative testing people with histories of "AIDS risks."

Such unscientific approaches to research are unfortunately typical in the realm of AIDS. Sadly, no drug studies since the AZT trials in the mid-1980s have attempted to compare the outcomes of matched groups of HIV positives not on AIDS meds with those taking AIDS treatment. Although the AZT trials did not properly establish that this toxic chemotherapy conferred live-saving benefits, it's now considered unethical to conduct a drug trial that doesn't use AZT or other unproved drugs as "placebo controls."

Please note that I agree wholeheartedly with the ethical principle that we cannot withhold life-saving treatment from participants in a drug trial, but we still have yet to prove that any AIDS drug can in fact save lives.

Until public funds are allotted for studies that might challenge or falsify the HIV hypothesis or independent studies free of the influence of profit-driven entities like drug and diagnostic manufacturers can be conducted, and unfounded definitions of health and ethical research can be overcome, we will not have answers to your very important questions.

Thanks for writing,



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