Reprinted from: Mothering magazine, Sept/Oct 2001, Edited and updated for Alive & Well May 2004
Molecular Miscarriage: Is the HIV Theory a Tragic Mistake?
By Neville Hodgkinson
“Although HIV is the most intensely investigated microbe in history, scientists do not know how or why it causes AIDS. The virus is thought to destroy cells crucial in coordinating the body's responses to unwanted invaders, but that theory hasn't stood up…”
From the beginning, AIDS has been a tough issue for the medical establishment. It brings together so many sensitivities. When first identified among gay men in San Francisco and New York in the early 1980s, it was labeled a "gay plague" and suffered political neglect. This soon backfired, however. Gay leaders, fearful that their hard-won gains in public acceptance of homosexuality were under threat, became angry and vociferous. Pressure on politicians to come up with an answer was intense.
In April 1984, US government scientists, led by Robert Gallo, offered the proposition that a new, lethal, sexually transmitted virus, probably imported from Africa, was the sole cause. A blood test said to detect the virus was marketed, and screening surveys gave rise to the idea that HIV was starting to spread rapidly via sexual intercourse, blood transfusions, mother-to-baby transmission, and needles shared by drug addicts. AZT soon followed, also essentially marketed by government scientists, although with a drug company, Burroughs Wellcome (now Glaxo Wellcome), reaping the rewards. The world was assured that a vaccine would not be far behind.
Between 1984 and 1987 three propositions became established as a firm belief system, essentially unchanged to this day. These hold that:
1. HIV is a lethal viral infection that leads inexorably to the collapse of the immune system seen in AIDS.
2. The virus's presence can be reliably detected with the HIV test.
3. AZT and similar drugs can save lives by quelling the virus, blocking its growth and transmission.
It therefore followed that testing pregnant women and their babies for HIV, and administering AZT when necessary, would play a vital part in the fight against AIDS by preventing the virus from being passed from mother to child or from becoming established in the child who has tested positive.
But what if these propositions are wholly or even partly mistaken? In that case, what's being done to HIV-positive mothers and babies might bring more loss than gain. If there were any doubts about the validity of the conventional theory, such coercion would be surely unethical. In fact, there are serious questions surrounding all these propositions. We will examine each of them in turn.
* * *
How Does HIV Cause AIDS?
Although HIV is the most intensely investigated microbe in history (to date, US taxpayers have spent $93 billion on federal government research, treatment, and other programs), scientists do not know how or why it causes AIDS. There is widespread acceptance of the lethal virus theory, but no agreement on how HIV does the damage attributed to it. At one time it was thought AIDS resulted from the virus running over the immune system like a truck, destroying a particular class of cell (known for short as T4 cells) crucial in coordinating the body's responses to unwanted invaders. That theory hasn't stood up. Today, according to a review published in the science journal Nature, "much remains left to the imagination" as to how HIV causes immune deficiency.(1)
This gap in the story was identified as far back as 1987 by Peter Duesberg, a distinguished molecular biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who demonstrated that there was so little active virus in patients, even those with full-blown AIDS, that it could not be causing AIDS by destroying T4 cells directly. At first Duesberg's arguments were ignored. When he persisted in challenging the HIV theory, he was derided by most of his fellow scientists and refused renewal of a $350,000 "outstanding investigator" award from the National Institutes of Health.(2) Internationally, however, his ideas have attracted a considerable following. Over the past ten years, hundreds of scientists and other AIDS analysts have been pressing for a reappraisal of the HIV theory.(3)
Traditionally, in determining whether a virus is the specific cause of an illness, scientists are required to first purify it from a patient with the disease so that they know what it looks like under the electron microscope and precisely what they are working with. They then grow the virus in the laboratory; show that it is present in all cases of the disease, that there is lots of it, and that it is active in the body in a way that accounts for the disease; and demonstrate that it reproduces the original disease when introduced into a susceptible animal. In the case of HIV, none of these requirements has been met in a straightforward way.
There are even doubts over whether HIV exists as a genuine viral entity. The problem is that unlike most disease-causing microbes, HIV cannot be purified from fresh patient tissues -- there just isn't enough of if there.(4) It only appears after laborious laboratory procedures, in which millions of the patient's immune cells are mixed with cells taken from a patient with leukemia (cancer cells useful to researchers because they don't easily die) or from fetal cord, and subjected to chemical stimulants. Weeks later, a particle containing active genetic material is released by one of the cells and starts stimulating other cells into doing the same. This material can be passed from one cell to another, and its genetic makeup can be determined. But that doesn't mean it is an infectious, disease-inducing virus. It might simply be an endogenous (coming from within) product of the heavily-stimulated immune cells.
Inside the cells that comprise our bodies are lengths of DNA, a complex chemical that makes up our genes. As well as determining inherited characteristics such as eye color, genes can become active in helping the body respond to changing circumstances. They can multiply themselves within the cell (a phenomenon known as "jumping genes" or, more technically, transposons), and they can also form particles, budding out of the cell in a protein envelope to carry stretches of genetic information elsewhere.
Some of these particles make use of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase to transcribe their genetic information back into other cells. Molecular biologists have named such particles human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), though the term virus is misleading; some may be no more than harmless cell products, while others may even have a useful role.(5) Cells of the immune system, which defend us against invaders like germs, pollutants and other hazards, are particularly active genetically. The particles they produce may boost or coordinate protective immune responses. They may also be responsible for passing on an acquired capacity for such responses from mother to child during pregnancy, according to immunologist Ted Steele, formerly of the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.(6)
This is where some scientists think confusion may have arisen when researchers decided they had found a new virus in AIDS patients and those at risk of AIDS. HERVs have been demonstrated to come out of the genome under the very circumstances in which "HIV/AIDS" is commonly diagnosed -- conditions of stress including infection, malnutrition, and pregnancy.(7) In most cases, "people produce antibodies against their HERVs, and not surprisingly, they test positive for HIV," says Rudolf Werner, professor of molecular biology at the University of Miami Medical School.(8) "All retroviruses are similar, and our genome is full of dormant retroviruses -- over 2 percent of the genome is retroviral. Thus I have come to suspect that retroviruses are found in sick people but are not the cause of sickness. Their release into the bloodstream is a consequence of the sickness. People who are under stress often test positive for HIV even though they have never been 'infected.'" Ted Steele confirms that "when cells that make antibodies are put under stress, they certainly make large quantities of endogenous retroviruses." (9)
At first, even HIV's "discoverers" had their doubts about what they were working with. When a group that was led by France's Luc Montagnier described the procedures and observations that made them believe they might have cultured an AIDS virus, Robert Gallo did not believe them.(10) Nor did Nature, which turned their paper down. Nor did the British virus expert Robin Weiss, who in a 1986 patent application referred to Montagnier's HIV strain as a "so-called AIDS virus isolate."
It turned out that the first blood tests for "HIV" marketed by both Gallo and Weiss were based on the "so-called isolate" from France, sent to Gallo's laboratory by Montagnier for further investigation. A big fight followed over who had found the virus first. Eventually the French and US governments agreed on a deal that split the credit -- and the profits. Gallo's use of cancer cells to get "HIV" to multiply allowed him to obtain enough of it to work with, and he forgot about his criticisms. Essentially, however, the objections stood, as they do to this day.
Gallo, Montagnier, and Weiss, the three most famous AIDS virus investigators in the world, were all in the same boat, working with a single "so-called isolate," which none of them had purified but which was characterized as the cause of AIDS.(11) Nor in all the studies since has the strip of genetic material now ascribed by convention to HIV been shown to have the properties of a unique, infectious entity. Every time molecular biologists look for it, it changes its appearance, even within the same individual: in any one patient there are more than 100 million genetically distinct variants, according to one estimate.(12) The variations led one researcher to conclude, "The data imply that there is no such thing as an [AIDS virus] isolate."(13) These observations are consistent with the idea that we are looking at a phenomenon of activated genes, rather than a virus. Furthermore, none of 150 chimpanzees inoculated with "HIV" has developed AIDS. It's believed that the virus crossed into humans from chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys, but these animals do not get AIDS naturally, despite carrying "essentially the same virus."(14)
AIDS researchers have shown in laboratory work that the particles they chose to call HIV have an affinity for T4 cells, and that they can replicate within these cells. It is also clear that T4 cells are crucial in coordinating the immune system's response to microbes and other pathogens, and that the number of T4 cells circulating in the blood goes down in patients with AIDS. However, this reduction does not mean that T4 cells are being killed off by HIV, as originally thought. Rather, it reflects a response to activation of the immune system. The T4 cells move out of the blood and concentrate in lymph nodes, which filter out microbes and other foreign particles.(15) Perhaps "HIV" particles do influence this process, but that does not mean they are harmful; they may be participating in a natural immune response.
Whatever the cause, the extremely low T4 cell counts commonly thought to result from HIV infection are actually very common in people who are HIV-negative. Conditions that result in these changes include infections, burns, injections of foreign protein, malnutrition, overexercising, pregnancy, psychological stress, and social isolation.(16) T4 cells also die in people with AIDS, often through a process of self-destruction. This had led some researchers to propose that AIDS may be primarily an autoimmune condition in which the immune system becomes confused and directs a response against some of its own cells.
In essence, what all this means is that we do not know the meaning of the phenomenon labeled HIV.
* * *
Is the HIV Test Reliable?

A common argument in support of the theory that HIV is the cause of AIDS is that there is a close connection between testing positive and risk of illness. Such a link does exist, but there are explanations for it that do not require the presence of a deadly new virus.
The link may be meaningless if the antibodies detected by the HIV test are nonspecific, that is, if they can be a result of other disease processes and do not necessarily indicate the presence of HIV. Evidence that this is indeed the case was first comprehensively set out in an article in the journal Bio/Technology. A team of scientists based in Perth, Western Australia, examined each of the proteins used to make the HIV tests and showed that there are potential non-HIV sources for all of them, including normal cell constituents released when immune cells become overstimulated and disordered.(17)
Heavy burdens on the immune system, regardless of HIV, are present in all the main risk groups for AIDS, which may explain the close correlation with testing positive. The Gay Liberation years of the 1970s brought unprecedented opportunities for men to have sex with one another, and all the early gay victims of AIDS were leading the fast-track sex-and-drugs lifestyle. Exposure to sperm and seminal fluid from many different partners, as well as repeated bouts of sexually transmitted diseases, chronic use of antibiotics, and the debilitating effects of heavy exposure to recreational drugs may have combined to put such men at risk.(18)
Drug addicts, another group at risk of AIDS, suffer immune deficiencies because of directly damaging effects of opiates on T cells, for which they have an enormous affinity, as well as because of malnutrition and infections caused by sharing needles. This group's risk of developing AIDS is much higher when addicts continue to inject drugs than when they stop.(19)
People with the blood-clotting disorder hemophilia, also at risk, were known to suffer immune disorders, include T4 cell decline, resulting directly from their treatment. During the 1970s and 1980s, such treatment involved repeated intravenous infusion of concentrates made from the blood of thousands of people. It was estimated that a typical patient receiving 40 to 60 treatments a year could be exposed to blood from up to two million donors.(20) The greater the amount of clotting factor they received, and the longer they received it, the greater their risk of immune deficiency. In the late 1980s, when HIV-positive hemophiliacs were switched to an extremely pure version of the clotting factor (made using genetic engineering techniques), their T4 cell counts ceased to decline and in some instances did a U-turn.(21) Blood transfusion recipients, too, were a very high-risk group and did not need HIV to become sick. In one US study, about half the recipients of noninfected blood transfusions died within one year of the transfusion.(22)
The biggest confusion of all has arisen in Africa. When the "AIDS test" was first marketed in the mid-1980s, Western scientists looking for the origin of HIV went to several central African countries with their diagnostic kits and found high percentages of people testing positive -- 40 to 50 percent in some areas. This created a climate of doom about HIV/AIDS in which those suffering from traditional diseases of poverty and malnutrition including tuberculosis, pneumonia, chronic intestinal infections, and malaria were liable to be diagnosed as AIDS patients, by virtue of their HIV antibody status. Yet there is now strong evidence that the nonspecific nature of the HIV test is causing millions to test false positive. Sufferers of leprosy and tuberculosis as well as carriers of the germs responsible for those diseases are particularly at risk of this false positive reaction.(23)
Convinced that a terrible epidemic was unfolding, the World Health Organization added to the confusion by allowing doctors to diagnose AIDS in Africa even without the use of the HIV test, simply on the basis of a combination of symptoms such as fever, persistent cough, diarrhea, or weight loss. "Dressed up as HIV/AIDS, a variety of old sicknesses have been reclassified," writes Charles Geshekter, a professor of African history at California State University, Chico. After a recent trip to Africa -- his 15th -- Geshekter concluded that it was impossible to distinguish these common symptoms from those of malaria, tuberculosis, or the indigenous diseases of impoverished lands. Furthermore, "it is well understood that many endemic infections will trigger the same antibodies that cause positive reactions on the HIV antibody tests. ...The problem is that dysentery and malaria do not inspire headlines or fatten public health budgets. Infectious 'plagues' do."(24)
HIV tests do not look directly for an AIDS virus but for antibodies that are thought to be related to the purported virus. This could still be a valid approach for establishing HIV infection, if it were possible to prove the presence of the virus in people who test positive and to show that it is not present in people who test negative. But because it has not been possible to purify the virus directly from patients, this "gold standard" for validating a diagnostic test has never been applied. Instead, the test kits are calibrated to ensure that many AIDS patients, and people at risk for AIDS, test positive, whereas most healthy people test negative.(25) This is an extraordinary rough-and-ready approach, and not surprisingly, elevated levels of "HIV" antibodies have been clearly shown to relate to many non-AIDS conditions. About 70 different reasons for getting a positive reaction unrelated to HIV infection have been documented in the scientific literature.(26) The conditions include autoimmune illness, responses to flu shots, and as mentioned above, even pregnancy itself.
The Perth scientists, headed by medical physicist Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and physician Val Turner, conclude that whatever the condition, AIDS or otherwise, a positive test doesn't indicate HIV infection but is a nonspecific marker for a variety of conditions. "Consequently the general belief that almost all individuals, healthy or otherwise, who are HIV antibody-positive are infected with a lethal retrovirus, has not been scientifically substantiated."(27)
Today the tests remain beset with problems, despite claims to the contrary by HIV protagonists.(28) As one example of the confusion this creates, even among scientists at the forefront of AIDS orthodoxy, in the US it is the practice not to call someone HIV-positive based only on tests using a method known as Elisa; confirmation with a different technique, Western blot, is required. But in the UK, diagnosis relies primarily on various types of Elisa, with Western blot being regarded by the experts as too unreliable to be used other than as a research tool.
The authorities have known about the nonspecificity of the HIV test from the beginning yet, like Pontius Pilate, washed their hands of the problem. As far back as 1986, a Food and Drug Administration official told a World Health Organization meeting that the primary use of the test was for screening blood donations, and that "it is inappropriate to use this test as a screen for AIDS or as a screen for members of groups at increased risk for AIDS in the general population." He added, however, that enforcing this intention "would be analogous to enforcing the Volstead Act which prohibited alcoholic beverage sales in the United States in the 1920s -- simply not practical."(29) I wonder what the millions whose lives have been marred by an "HIV" diagnosis will say when they learn, as surely they must, of the shaky science that lies behind the tests.
The manufacturers know of the continuing shortcomings, and they cover themselves legally by stating that their kit should not be used, on its own, to diagnose HIV infection. But as Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos says, "We have to question all types of the antibody test. ...If the test is no good, you can repeat it a thousand times and it still won't be any good. When the principle of the test, the basis of it, has not been established, it doesn't matter how many times you repeat it, you still won't prove anything."(30)
The same applies to so-called viral loads, in which genetic segments attributed to HIV are amplified millions of times in order to reach detectable levels. Just as with HIV antibodies, these genetic segments have not been shown to be specific to HIV; they, too, may indicate a more generalized activation of the immune system. The root of the problem is the same as with the antibodies: the research community's inability to purify and unequivocally demonstrate the existence of HIV in AIDS patients.
John Papadimitriou, professor of pathology at the University of Western Australia and an internationally renowned expert on electron microscopy, also questions whether the phenomena labeled HIV by AIDS scientists truly represent an infectious virus. "They have not proven that they have actually detected a unique, exogenous retrovirus," he told me. "The critical data to support that idea have not been presented. You have to be absolutely certain that what you have detected is unique and exogenous, and a single molecular species. They haven't got conclusively to that first step. Just to see particles in the tissues, and fail to look for evidence that it is an infective virus, is wrong. Are these particles that cause disease? The proper controls have never been done." Of AIDS in Africa, he added, "Why condemn a continent to death because of HIV when you have other explanations for why people are falling sick?"
Val Turner, of Perth, goes even farther. "HIV is a metaphor for a lot of quasi-related phenomena," he told me. "No one has ever proved its existence as a virus. We don't believe it exists." Etienne de Harven, a 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, agrees with the Perth group on this devastating omission. "Of course, I am very familiar with the many reports and electron microscope pictures of 'HIV particles,'" he says. "Indeed,they show particles which could very well be taken as retroviruses on the basis of their ultrastructure alone. But all these particles have been found in complex cell cultures, never in one single AIDS patient!"(31) Recent attempts to make good this omission, with electron microscope studies that should have been done years ago, produced "disastrous" results, de Harven says, suggesting "billions of research dollars gone up in smoke."(32)
Does Antiviral Treatment Save Lives?

Medicine often works in a pragmatic way, with treatments evolved by trial and error, and not always with a clear understanding of how those that work do so. Even if critics of the HIV/AIDS theory who believe the virus to be harmless or non-existent and the AIDS test invalid are right, researchers might still have chanced upon treatments that do help. Is there evidence of such serendipity?
Just as the HIV theory entered common currency more for social and political reasons than through scientific evidence, those working in the AIDS field have desperately wanted to believe that the drug treatments are working. The evidence is thin, however. When AZT was first marketed, it rapidly established itself as the "gold standard" of anti-HIV treatment, and hundreds of studies (mostly funded by its manufacturers) claimed to show benefit. But the biggest and longest trial, a collaborative effort involving British and French government researchers, showed a 25 percent increase in deaths among those treated early with the drug compared with those in whom treatment was delayed.(33)
Sadly, researchers failed to learn from this experience and in 1996 brought in a policy of initiating treatment of "HIV disease" as early as possible, this time with cocktails of several antiviral drugs, including a group of "miracle drugs" called protease inhibitors. There were high-profile stories of individual patients with AIDS rising from their sickbeds like Lazarus, and proud boasts that HIV was on the run at last. But as with AZT, this was more wishful thinking than sound science. AIDS patients suffer from a lot of viral and other infections, and the drug cocktails gave short-term relief to some, but until recently it was left to the "dissident" information network to report, usually within a few weeks or months, the deaths of many of the patients. For years, chemist David Rasnick, an expert on protease inhibitors, has warned that they are dangerous and unlikely to bring benefit. "To date," he says, "there is still no clinical trial that has proved that the protease inhibitors -- either taken alone or in combination with other antiviral drugs -- reduce the mortality or improve the quality of life of AIDS patients."(34)
This year, US government scientists issued guidelines acknowledging "unanticipated toxicities" with the long-term use of antiviral drugs and signaling a reversal of the "hit early, hit hard" policy of attacking the virus in HIV-positive people.(35) Drug companies have also been ordered to stop advertising their antiviral drugs with images that imply they cure AIDS (such as photographs of "robust individuals engaged in strenuous physical activity") or reduce its transmission. These actions came a year after a powerful article by AIDS journalist Celia Farber that began, "In 1996 a scientist claimed he'd found a way to defeat AIDS. In the wave of euphoria that followed, a batch of new drugs flooded the market. Four years later, those drugs are wreaking unimaginable horror on the patients who dared to hope. What went wrong?"(36)
As for "AZT babies," there is no scientific evidence that the antiviral drugs prolong or improve the quality of their lives. The benefit is entirely a supposition, based on the finding that the drugs cause fewer children to be born testing positive. Since we do not know the meaning of HIV antibodies, we do not know what this finding means in terms of the babies' health. David Rasnick, who has worked in the US pharmaceutical industry for more than 20 years, told an inquiry into AIDS science in South Africa in July 2000 that he had "scoured the literature" for evidence of tangible benefit, with zero results.(37) In fact, several studies have shown harm. A major Italian study found that children born to mothers treated with AZT in pregnancy were more likely to get severely sick and die by the age of three than those whose mothers were left untreated.(38)
The world has not wanted to listen to those who question the HIV hypothesis. The tens of billions of HIV research dollars support more than 100,000 doctors and scientists "who have built their careers and reputations by simply accepting the HIV dogma and the axioms of AIDS," Rasnick told the Naples International Conference on Science and Democracy [see Note 34]. "Many informed critics think that the billions of dollars at stake is the biggest roadblock to ending the AIDS insanity. That money is certainly a formidable weapon in the service of the HIV/AIDS establishment. However, I think it's simple human embarrassment that is the biggest obstacle to bringing this insanity to an end. It is the fear of being so obviously and hopelessly wrong about AIDS that keeps lips sealed, the money flowing, and the AIDS rhetoric spiraling to stratospheric heights of absurdity."
Where does this leave those who find themselves caught up in the nightmare that follows an HIV diagnosis? Perhaps the simplest but most important lesson is that science is unquestionably in a muddle, so individuals have every right to challenge and question orthodox AIDS beliefs, especially when these have a direct bearing on their own lives.
The belief in HIV as a sexually transmitted virus that would in time put heterosexuals at risk as much as gay men was never correct.(39) AIDS has stayed confined to groups of people who have non-HIV risks in their lives, including recreational drugs, severe poverty, multiple infections, and the relatively easy access into the bloodstream of foreign body fluids received through anal sex. In the minority of cases where none of those risks is apparent, prescription drugs and the intensely damaging effect of an HIV diagnosis may have been to blame.
In 1992, when AIDS cases were, in fact, dropping in the US and Europe, experts agreed on an arbitrary widening of the range of disorders eligible for registration as AIDS, including, for the first time, HIV-positive people with no illness but with T4 cell counts below 200, as well as women with cervical cancer. In the US, this produced an artificial doubling in the number of AIDS cases reported, but -- despite further expansions in classification -- registrations have been declining ever since. About 650,000 cases of AIDS were registered in the US from 1982 to mid-1998, and 75 percent of those were in high-risk groups. Of 1,789 babies registered cumulatively as AIDS cases over the same period, 1,774 (99 percent) were birthed to mothers in high-risk groups.(40) An analysis of data from the AIDS epicenters of New York City and California by Gordon Stewart, emeritus professor of public health, University of Glasgow, Scotland, a former WHO adviser of AIDS, shows that "perinatal and neonatal AIDS are minimal except where mothers and infants are exposed to risks in ethnic, drug-using and bisexual situations. After 20 years of intensive surveillance in a country where AIDS is as prevalent as in some third world countries, this in itself excludes any appreciable spread of AIDS by heterosexual transmission of HIV in the huge majority of the general population."(41)
The HIV story has done enormous harm, but there are positive sides to it as well. The condom and clean needle campaigns will not have been in vain. Furthermore, HIV brought the world together in a way that has been beneficial for gay men, now far more accepted and valued in society than even 20 years ago, and perhaps increasingly for poor countries, where the links between poverty and disease are finally receiving renewed attention.
There is clearly a transmissible component in AIDS, as seen in the risks attached to anal intercourse and needle sharing. Indeed, if there is anything to African AIDS more than the surge of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria that accompany impoverished living conditions and the collapse of health systems, it may turn out to have been transmitted through the reuse of needles in mass vaccination campaigns exported by Western health agencies. While the contagious virus theory remains unproven and unlikely, animal studies suggest that transmissible AIDS-like diseases can be induced -- without any exogenous infection -- when the immune system is thrown into confusion through certain vaccination procedures.(42) These may hold a lesson for us in relation to vaccine policy in general, as well as provide a clue to what's really going on in AIDS. To molecular biologist Rudolf Werner, these studies emphasize "that we still know very little about autoimmunity and how it works. Introduction of foreign protein into someone else's system quite clearly upsets that person's immune system. We need to learn much more about immunological tolerance and autoimmunity."(43)
We also need to learn more about the link between the immune system and the mind. At the University of Miami, researchers have reported that intensive grief therapy significantly reduces "HIV viral load," as well as maintaining T4 cell levels, in gay men who have lost a partner or close friend to AIDS.(44) Such studies drive home the importance of de-hexing AIDS by re-examining the unproven "deadly virus" hypothesis and discontinuing use of the discredited HIV tests.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to doing so is that HIV has a symbolic power in our lives. On the one hand, it is an icon of fear, representing a breakdown in the integrity of an individual's being that must bring dependency, disease, and death in its wake. On the other hand, along with the red ribbon, HIV/AIDS has become a symbol of unity, compassion, and hope, a banner behind which doctors and scientists, the priests of our time, can mobilize their beneficent energies into defeating this perceived threat to humankind, with the support of all decent people. To get in the way of that effort has been interpreted as a sign that you are lacking either common decency or common sense.
A generation of mothers and babies now risk becoming casualties of these good intentions. Perhaps their suffering will help us realize that it is time to drop our preconceptions about AIDS, admit the mistakes that have been made, and make a fresh start in trying to understand the disease.
Recently I spent an evening with my new grandson. Otto had been born the day before, after a long and difficult labor, and was bawling in protest at having just been bathed when I arrived to see him. Minutes later he was placed in my arms, where he stayed contentedly for the next three hours. Although he was asleep for most of that time, I felt as if something like a current was passing through me that would help soothe and nourish him. Admiring the beauty of his jawline, the fineness of his limbs, the miracle of nature that a baby represents, I felt nourished, too. Love for a baby seems such sweet, pure, uncomplicated truth. Somehow, it is redeeming.
The impulse to help new life get off to the best possible start is present in all of us. It has taken a tragic twist, however, for the HIV-positive mothers whose struggles are described by Susan Gerhard in this issue of Mothering. Health officials, in the sincere belief that they are furthering the fight against AIDS, are coercing pregnant mothers into being tested for HIV. If a mother tests positive, she is required to take AZT (a drug so dangerous that experimental handlers are urged to wear protective clothing) and is told not to breastfeed. The newborn baby also must be tested and is treated with AZT or a similar antiviral drug if this is thought necessary, regardless of the parents' wishes. Failure to comply can result in the child being taken away by the authorities.
These are draconian measures. To be told that you have tested positive for a virus equated by most people with the collapse of the immune system and, ultimately, death is a terrible assault on one's mental and emotional stability. We know from mind-body studies that such stress in itself damages immunity. The impact goes beyond mother and baby; if the bond of love created at the time of a new arrival is destroyed by trauma, it can take years to overcome the resulting suffering and social dysfunction. (Not all women are as resilient as those Gerhard describes.) Add to the stress of the diagnosis the loss of breastfeeding, the administration of a poisonous drug with cancer-causing potential, and the sometimes violent enforcement of medical will, and it becomes clear the Hippocratic principle of "first do no harm" is being breached many times over. Medical practice often involves balancing benefits against risks; in the case of these mothers, the question is not one of risk but of immediate, unquestionable harm.
To justify such actions, the benefits would need to be huge and clear-cut, and such indeed is the view of health authorities who think they are reducing the spread of a lethal virus. In this article, I set out some rarely reported facts and perspectives that challenge that view and suggest that the mothers who have clashed with those authorities deserve to be treated with much more compassion, humility, and respect.
Neville Hodgkinson reported on HIV and AIDS as medical journalist for The Sunday Times (London) from 1985 to 1989. beginning in 1991, as the newspaper's science correspondent, he wrote a series of highly controversial reports based on the arguments of scientists seeking a reappraisal of the HIV theory. He is the author of "AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science -- How a Virus That Never Was Deceived the World" (London: Fourth Estate, 1996).
1. See "The Dynamics of CD4+ T-cell Depletion in HIV Disease" by Joseph McCune in Nature (April 19, 2001): "We still do not know how, in vivo, the virus destroys CD4+ T cells [T4 cells] or whether, in quantitative terms, cell loss is due to direct destruction by virus or to other indirect means. This ignorance, arising in large part because it is difficult to study the immune system in living human beings, hinders the discovery and development of effective vaccines and therapies. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the loss of CD4+ T cells, some of which seem to be diametrically opposed."
2. Duesberg's Cancer Research article, "Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectation and Reality" was published in March 1987. An insight into the political nature of the response it triggered is given in a leaked US government memorandum, dated April 28, 1987. Headed "Media Alert," it was sent from the office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), with copies to the Secretary, Undersecretary, and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, the Chief of Staff, the Surgeon General, and the White House. The memo noted, "The article apparently went through the normal pre-publication process and should have been flagged at NIH." It went on: "This obviously has the potential to raise a lot of controversy (if this isn't the virus, how do we know the blood supply is safe? How do we know anything about transmission? How could you all be so stupid and why should we ever believe you again?) and we need to be prepared to respond. I have already asked NIH public affairs to start digging into this."
3. See and
4. Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos, Valendar Turner, John Papadimitriou, and David Causer, "The Isolation of HIV: Has It Really Been Achieved?" Supplement to Continuum 4, no. 3 (September/October 1996). See also
5. On page 374 of my book "AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science" (London: Fourth Estate, 1996), I suggest use of the term "enveloped transposon" instead of endogenous retrovirus, to avoid the "deadly virus" connotation. See also work by virologist Stefan Lanka (, such as "HIV: Reality or Artifact?," first published in Continuum (April/May 1995).
6. E. J. Steele, Somatic Selection and Adaptive Evolution: On the Inheritance of Acquired Characters (University of Chicago Press, 1981), 42-57; Harry Rothenfluh and Ted Steele, "Lamarck, Darwin and the Immune System," Today's Life Science (August 1993): 16, 19, 20, 22.
7. Lower et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 93, no. 11 (1996): 5177-5184.
8. Personal communication.
9. Personal communication.
10. Gallo wrote to The Lancet in early 1984, "No one has been able to work with their particles. ...Because of the lack of permanent production and characterisation it is hard to say they are really 'isolated' in the sense that virologists use this term." He also dismissed as "ridiculous" the French team's claim that they had identified a virus specific to AIDS on the grounds that their particles reacted with antibodies in blood samples from AIDS patients. "That's bad virology," he said. "Patient sera, especially in AIDS patients, has antibodies to a lot of different things." And he raised doubts over photographs taken through an electron microscope by the French, purporting to show virus particles. See also J. Crewdson, "The Great AIDS Quest," Chicago Tribune, (November 19, 1989): 5.
11. Montagnier himself admitted in a 1997 interview with French TV journalist Djamel Tahi that "we did not purify" the virus and added that he did not believe Gallo had done so either.
12. S. Wain-Hobson, "Virological Mayhem," Nature (January 12, 1995): 102.
13. J. L. Marx, Science 241 (1988): 1039-1040. Howard Temin, who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery of an enzyme characteristic of retroviruses, makes a similar point in a chapter contributed to Emerging Viruses (Stephen Morse, ed., Oxford University Press, 1993), 221: "The data indicate that in any one AIDS patient, at any one time, there are many different virus genomes." Also see Neville Hodgkinson, "AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science" (London: Fourth Estate, 1996), 371.
14. R. Kurth and S. Norley, "Why Don't the Natural Hosts of SIV Develop Simian AIDS?," Journal of National Institutes of Health Research 8 (1996): 33-37. Quoted by Robin Weiss in "Gulliver's Travels in HIVland," Nature 410 (April 19, 2001): 964.
15. Joseph McCune, "The Dynamics of CD4+ T-cell Depletion in HIV Disease," Nature 410 (April 19, 2001): 974-979.
16. See for a well-documented paper on this topic by Matt Irwin, a recently graduated medical student.
17. E.P. Eleopulos et al., "Is a Positive Western Blot Proof of HIV Infection?," Bio/Technology 11 (June 1993): 696-707.
18. J. A. Sonnabend and Serge Saadoun, "The Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome: A Discussion of Etiologic Hypotheses," AIDS Research 1, no. 2 (1984): 107-120. This article pointed out that semen and sperm were well documented as a cause of immune system abnormalities in anal intercourse, when the proteins involved permeate the colon's thin lining and enter the bloodstream. (In vaginal sex, the vagina's thick walls restrict the invasion of semen to its intended target, the womb.) There are antigens expressed on cells in the ejaculate that are shared by cells of the immune system, raising the possibility that repeated exposure could set up a reaction in the body against one's own immune cells. Anal sex has been around a long time, of course, but the Gay Liberation years brought exceptional exposures. A Centers for Disease Control study of the first 100 gay men with AIDS found that their median number of lifetime sexual partners was 1,160; a subsequent group boasted 10,000 or more partners. See also Robert Root-Bernstein, "Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus" (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 115-120.
19. One of the best examples of this phenomenon was a study by Maurizio Luca Moretti of the Florida-based Inter-American Medical and Health Association, who collaborated with colleagues in Italy on a study of 508 former intravenous drug abusers. [Robert Root-Bernstein, "Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus" (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 359-360.] The men, all HIV-positive, were voluntarily confined to a rehabilitation center where their lives were under the daily management of staff. Most were found to be severely malnourished on arrival, 397 of them chronically so. Their nutritional status was returned to normal, their drug use ended, and their sex lives were curtailed (the center is a monastery, where patients sleep in small groups under supervision). Among 139 individuals who had been using heroin daily for an average of more than five years, all were still free of AIDS symptoms after an average of more than four years since they had first tested positive. This is a phenomenal success rate compared with the US, where 32 percent of HIV-positive addicts develop AIDS within two years and more than 50 percent within four years. For more information, see Neville Hodgkinson, "AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science" (London: Fourth Estate, 1996), 205.
20. Blood 73 (1989), 2067-2073
21. S. Seremetis et al., "Three-year Randomised Study of High-Purity or Intermediate-Purity Factor VIII Concentrates in Symptom-Free HIV-Seropositive Haemophiliacs: Effects on Immune Status," The Lancet 342 (September 18, 1993): 700-703; De Biasi et al., "The Impact of a Very High Purity Factor VIII Concentrate on the Immune System of Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Infected Hemophiliacs," Blood 78, no. 8 (1992): 1919-1922. These findings prompted Gordon Stewart to tell The Sunday Times in London, "If this work is confirmed, it means the patients may not get AIDS at all. It also gives us an immense clue to the mechanics of AIDS. We now know that if the haemophiliacs are infused with impure concentrates, they get changes that resemble AIDS; and if they get the high-purity product, they don't get those changes. So the probability is that the haemophiliacs' response is to the foreign protein in their treatment, and not to HIV. The allegation that haemophiliac patients get AIDS because of being infected by HIV has to be questioned." "Factor 8 Hope in HIV Battle," The Sunday Times (February 21, 1993).
22. Hardy et al., "Incidence Rate of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome in Selected Populations," Journal of the American Medical Association 253 (1985): 215-220; J. W. Ward et al., "The Natural History of Transfusion-Associated Infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus," New England Journal of Medicine 321 (1989): 947-952, quoted in Peter Duesberg, "Inventing the AIDS Virus" (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1996), 285.
23. A study from Zaire (Kashala et al., "Infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type I [HIV-1] and Human T-cell Lymphotropic Viruses among Leprosy Patients and Contacts: Correlation between HIV-1 Cross-Reactivity and Antibodies to Lipoarabinomannan," Journal of Infectious Diseases 169 (1994): 296-304), in which 67 percent of leprosy patients and 23 percent of their contacts tested HIV-positive, found that only two of the patients and none of the contacts could be confirmed as positive using more detailed and expensive procedures. Even the two cases were questionable.
24. "The Plague That Isn't," Canadian Globe and Mail, (March 14, 2000).
25. The calibration is done by diluting the blood enormously, to a ratio of 1:400. Roberto Giraldo, a New York physician and author of the book "AIDS and Stressors," reported an experiment in which he tested undiluted serum samples with the most commonly used HIV diagnostic kit (Continuum 5, no. 5 [1998]: 8-10). All the samples tested negative when diluted; tested straight, they all became positive. The antibodies that have been misinterpreted as representing HIV are probably present in all of us, but they reach much higher levels when our immune system is activated.
26. Christine Johnson, "Factors Known to Cause False-Positive HIV Antibody Test Results," Zenger's (September 1996).
27. Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos et al., "HIV Antibody Testing: Autoreactivity and Other Associated Problems" (unpublished).
28. For a wide-ranging review of this evidence, see chapter nine of my book "AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science" (London: Fourth Estate, 1996).
29. Thomas F. Zuck, "AIDS: The Safety of Blood and Blood Products (Wiley Medical Publication on behalf of the World Health Organization, 1987), Ch. 21.
30. Personal communication.
31. Correspondence, September 2000.
32. Letter in Continuum 5, no. 2.
33. Concorde, "MRC/ANRS Randomised Double-blind Controlled Trial of Immediate and Deferred Zidovudine in Symptom-free HIV Infection," The Lancet 343: 871-881.
34. "Time to Separate State and Science," speech before the International Conference on Science and Democracy, Naples, Italy, April 20-21, 2001.
35. "Guidelines for the Use of Anti-Retroviral Agents in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents," February 2001, at
36. Celia Farber, "Science Fiction," GEAR magazine (March 2000).
37. Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel Report, March 2001, at
38. "Rapid Disease Progression in HIV-1 Perinatally Infected Children Born to Mothers Receiving Zidovudine Monotherapy During Pregnancy," AIDS 13 (1999): 927-933.
39. Stuart Brody, "Lack of Evidence for Transmission of HIV Through Vaginal Intercourse," Archives of Sexual Behaviour 25, no. 4 (1995): 383-393.
40. G. Stewart, "Epidemiological and Statistical Aspects of AIDS," a review for the Royal Society, UK, January 2000 (unpublished).
41. Ibid.
42. Victor Ter-Grigorov et al., "A New Transmissible AIDS-Like Disease in Mice Induced by Allo-immune Stimuli," Nature Medicine 3, no. 1 (January 1997): 37-41.
43. Personal communication, June 1998.
44. Christine Morris, "Counseling Weakens HIV's Attack, Study Finds," Miami Herald,



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