MAGAZINE REAPPRAISES HIV-AIDS MODEL
Led by Editor
Baffour Ankomah, New African scrutinizes reports of
doomsday epidemic and assumption that HIV is the cause
AN INFLUENTIAL African news magazine, New African
, for several years has promoted an AIDS reappraisal perspective.
Under the direction of its editor, Baffour Ankomah, nearly every AIDS
dispatch and editorial in the monthly publication scrutinizes the
widespread belief that Africa suffers from an exploding epidemic of
AIDS, that HIV explains or can possibly cause AIDS, and that unprotected
vaginal intercourse can transmit either HIV or AIDS. The magazine
consistently treats African AIDS as resulting from the features of
African poverty: malnutrition, parasitic infections, and overuse of
antiparasitic and antibiotic drug treatments.
Last year, American readers became aware of New
African's courageous editorial policy through an August 1999
wire services report that decried and misdescribed its reports.
The article appeared on the front page of many major newspapers
under such headlines as: "AIDS denial ravages Africa; Conspiracy
theories spread with disease" (Detroit Free Press
, Aug. 14) and "AIDS just a sinister hoax, many Africans told:
Intellectuals spread message of denial" (San Diego Union
Tribune , Aug. 13).
The terms "denial," "conspiracy,"
and "hoax" are familiar catch words used by journalists
to describe individuals who provide facts and logical conclusions
that pertain to HIV and AIDS. The report, by white Zimbabwean journalist
Neely Tucker, described New African as "a glossy,
London-based magazine that circulates to 32,000 well-heeled readers
in 40 countries" calling it "one of Africa's most respected
news magazines," whose "articles are reprinted in magazines
across the continent."
But the article also claimed that "the magazine's
editorials urge people to ignore health warnings and to not wear
condoms." Ankomah vigorously denies this. "Our worldwide
readers are well aware that New African has never published
editorials 'urging people to ignore health warnings and to not wear
condoms.' Neely Tucker's work shames our profession and exemplifies
why so many people say, 'Never trust a journalist.'"
Tucker's article focused on what professional African
AIDS workers increasingly cite as a major obstacle to their efforts:
residents who fail to regard AIDS as a serious threat, or who even
no longer believe that AIDS spreads sexually or that HIV causes
it. Tucker described New African as the principal source
for this sentiment.
California State University African history professor
Charles Geshekter, who has conducted considerable research in Africa,
calls New African , "the equivalent of Newsweek
or Time in Africa."
A review of articles on New African's
website (www.africasia.com) confirms that its writers analyzed the
scientific papers of such researchers as UC-Berkeley virologist
Peter Duesberg and Australian biophysicist Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos.
New African's articles describe a trend among Africans
generally becoming familiar with Duesberg and Eleopulos's controversial
This trend has become significant enough for professional AIDS workers
to complain about it their need for more "education" funding,
which is what inspired Tucker's article.
Unlike western dispatches such as Tucker's, those
in New African accurately consider the conclusions
of Duesberg, Eleopulos, and others who propose non-HIV explanations
for AIDS. They conclude that the cases of AIDS in Africa appear
to result not from a sexually transmitted microbe, which is what
allegedly HIV. Rather, these scientists contend that African AIDS
cases represent the common afflictions of African poverty (malnutrition
plus parasitic infections and the effects of over-used antiobiotics)
renamed as "AIDS" if HIV turns out to be one of the many
microbes for which these patients test positive.
New African's writers understand how
Duesberg and Eleopulos disagree. Duesberg regards HIV as a harmless
"passenger virus" and HIV antibody tests as indicating
current or previous HIV infections. In contrast, Eleopulos views
HIV as a laboratory artifact and proposes that HIV antibody tests
indicate current or previous exposure to other infectious or noninfectious
antigens, and other forms of "oxidative stress."
When western reporters consider non-HIV explanations for AIDS, they
present illogical misrepresentations of these views, then summarily
dismiss them. A typical distortion (in Tucker's article) muddles
together the ideas of Duesberg and Eleopulos to produce a confusing
amalgam that includes unrelated and incompatible conspiratorial
claims (which Duesberg and Eleopulos emphatically reject) of western
military scientists "inventing" HIV.
New African keeps these competing views
clear and distinct, but gives them a serious hearing. New
African stories emphasize different AIDS perspectives. Some
New African articles stress the conventional view of
a sexually contagious HIV as explaining all cases of AIDS. These
articles sometimes include the conspiratorial claims of being HIV
a lab creation. But even within the context of the HIV model, New
African reporters and commentators turn a critical eye on
the unsubstantiated claims that Africa is awash in AIDS patients
and people infected by HIV.
Mostly, though, New African stories
stress the views of Duesberg and (increasingly) Eleopulos.
A prolific journalist, Baffour Ankomah grew up in
Ghana and has extensively traveled across the continent reporting
on a diversity of political and social issues. In his writing and
in an interview with RA , he makes plain that his personal
and professional observations coincide with what Duesberg and Eleopulos
agree about -- that non-sexual factors rather than HIV explain AIDS
causation, and that western officials drastically overstate the
extent of AIDS in Africa.
Nonetheless, Ankomah declines to endorse or reject
any of the major explanations of AIDS, including the HIV model.
"I am not an expert," he told RA . "I
don't know what causes AIDS, if HIV is harmless, if it causes AIDS,
or if it's merely an artifact." But the articles he publishes
clearly endorse the criticisms advanced by AIDS reappraisers and
provide their perspective equal billing with -- and usually more
credibility than -- the conventional HIV explanation.
New African has promoted Eleopulos's
contention that, despite elaborate and persistent efforts, no samples
labeled "HIV" constitute isolations of any biological
entity, much less isolations of a particular virus. That means HIV
is either a hypothetical virus that is too flimsy to isolate, or
may not even exist at all.
He and other New African writers often
reiterate RA's criticisms of the official African AIDS
statistics: that no reliable, accurate figures substantiate the
alarmist claims of a runaway AIDS epidemic sweeping the continent.
"I have been writing for years that the 'millions
of Africans dying of AIDS' is an exaggeration," he told RA
. "Consider the special United Nations program UNAIDS, which
in an October 1998 report claimed that 4,600 Liberians died of AIDS
in 1997. If that many Liberians died of AIDS in 1997, there would
be a crisis in Liberia today. But I reported from Liberia in 1997
and 1998, and I didn't see people dropping dead of AIDS. So where
did UNAIDS get its figures?"
That UNAIDS report also alleged 24,000 AIDS deaths
in 1997 for Ghana, says Ankomah of his birthplace. "In my own
extended family of several hundred members, only three people have
died in the past 12 years: my grandma and aunt died of old age,
and my father died of a heart seizure. My wife will tell you the
same about her extended family. So will any Ghanaian you meet in
the streets of London. Who are these Ghanaians that UNAIDS claims
have been dropping dead of AIDS, 24,000 in 1997 alone?"
Ankomah sides with scientists who doubt that unprotected
vaginal intercourse can transmit either HIV or AIDS. "I've
read the American-originated research years back that showed it
takes 1,000 acts of sexual intercourse for a man to infect a woman,
and 7,000 acts for a woman to infect a man," he says, referring
to the published findings of researcher Nancy Padian. "So the
claim of sexual transmission is a big con. In my visits to Liberia,
I witnessed how the civil war there made some womenfolk turn to
prostitution as a means of survival, as happens in any war zone.
But I found no reason to think those women were developing AIDS
or becoming HIV-positive, as you would expect if vaginal intercourse
really did spread HIV, and if HIV really did cause AIDS. This is
why so many Africans are still not wearing condoms, despite all
the reports like those by Tucker claiming that millions are dropping
dead. More and more Africans see through the lie that condoms are
the be-all and end-all of AIDS prevention."
Ankomah agrees with Eleopulos's assessment that
HIV antibody tests are particularly problematical in Africa. Many
millions of Africans have encountered various non-HIV agents that
trigger antibody production, increasing the likelihood of false
positive results on antibody tests for any microbe. Some of these
agents common in Africa even trigger some of the same antibodies
that react with the officially regarded HIV proteins. A fundamental
problem with the HIV-AIDS model is that nobody has correlated the
clinical tests for HIV, including the antibody and viral load tests,
with actual, active HIV infections. Yet standard practice arbitrarily
assumes that positive results indicate active HIV infections. This
causes the bloated figures of rampant HIV infections in Africa.
And among individuals who believe that HIV infections cause AIDS,
these tests alone are "enough to condemn people for life as
destined to develop AIDS," Ankomah says.
Ankomah joins Duesberg and Eleopulos in objecting
to another flawed practice that causes a dramatic official overestimation
of AIDS in Africa: presumptive diagnoses. Because Africans and their
governments generally lack the money for HIV tests, AIDS diagnoses
on the continent require no testing. Instead, residents of regions
with a high prevalence of positive HIV tests are assumed to be HIV-positive
if they develop AIDS symptoms; and those symptoms are automatically
blamed on HIV and hence labeled as AIDS. Yet several studies show
that AIDS conditions are so prevalent in Africa that 70% who qualify
for a presumptive AIDS diagnosis actually test negative when investigators
subject them to HIV tests (RA April 1996 and September
This raises essential questions about the HIV model
of AIDS: If most AIDS conditions among Africans occur in people
who test HIV-negative, what causes those conditions in those individuals?
Do those factors also affect the patients who test positive? If
so, what reason is there to blame HIV rather than the other factors?
Ankomah echoes the frustration of Duesberg and Eleopulos
when he asks, "Why did HIV as the 'probable cause of AIDS'
declared at Robert Gallo's 1984 press conference with then US Health
Secretary Margaret Heckler instantly become steamrollered into the
gospel truth? What is the US government's interest in this view?"
Ankomah shares Duesberg's and Eleopulos's conclusion
that AIDS in Africa simply represents a new name for the ordinary
diseases of African poverty: malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis,
dysentery, and cholera.
ANKOMAH ON TUCKER
According to Ankomah, during his tape-recorded,
in-person interview for his article, Tucker himself offered an observation
that supports this "dissident" interpretation of HIV/AIDS
statistics. "He told me, with my colleagues in our open office
listening, how he and his wife visited an orphanage in Zimbabwe.
He said they saw all these orphans supposedly dying of AIDS. One
particular boy had all the 'classic AIDS symptoms.' But he and his
wife took the boy to a hospital, and then home, fed him, and today
the boy is alive and healthy! Tucker admitted that the boy was dying
of malnutrition diagnosed as 'AIDS.' I told him that the 'classic
symptoms of AIDS' are the classic symptoms of malnutrition, and
that cases like this boy's account for the African AIDS figures.
These patients are dying of malnutrition diagnosed as AIDS."
Ankomah continues: "Africans are not being
allowed to die of the old diseases. Why can't Africans today die
of TB or malaria -- which are diagnosed as 'AIDS' if the patient
tests HIV-positive and often when the patient isn't tested at all
-- as they were in the past? Sadly, Tucker found this crucial point
too dull to include in his article."
Ankomah notes that although the official African
AIDS definition calls for these old diseases to be diagnosed as
AIDS even in the absence of an HIV test, the vast majority of cases
occur in patients who fail to receive an AIDS diagnosis, because
they live in areas characterized by low HIV rates. Yet "billions
of dollars are being poured into African AIDS programs, while the
figures show that many more African malaria and TB deaths occur
in patients not diagnosed with AIDS than all the AIDS-classified
deaths put together," he says. "Why are TB and malaria
not given the same, if not more, attention and funding by the establishment?
Is it because the belief of infectious AIDS draws more money to
the pockets of officials and researchers than do TB and malaria,
which everybody knows confine themselves to impoverished populations?"
New African writers oppose the AIDS
reappraisal views only on the rare occasion when they consider the
claim that scientists invented HIV. This allegation casts HIV as
a super virus that causes AIDS and transmits easily. Its advocates
always describe HIV and AIDS as "amok" in Africa. Ankomah
declines to dismiss this view, popular among some black Americans,
even though it contradicts his own conclusions that HIV and AIDS
affect far fewer Africans than the official estimate, that HIV transmits
only with great difficulty, and that non-HIV factors explain AIDS
"That makes Ankomah a fair-minded journalist,
an editor who permits writers to disagree with him," Geshekter,
the African history professor, says. "New African's
editorial policy and its publication record represent a victory
for those who advocate a frank and honest discussion of the topic
Ankomah regards Tucker's article as an attempt to
demonize AIDS "dissidents," as a way of suppressing data
and opinions that undermine the frightful hysteria that keeps funds
rolling into HIV-based AIDS programs. "Representatives of the
establishment attempt to destroy journalists, researchers, or aid
workers who question the HIV model of AIDS," he concludes.
When Tucker asked if Ankomah's work amounted to
"irresponsible journalism," Ankomah responded with comments
that Tucker declined to print. "I said it would be if, at the
end of the day, we were proved wrong," Ankomah says. "'But
it wouldn't be irresponsible if the establishment was proved wrong.'"
A better answer might have been that it is never
irresponsible for journalists to state their views or those of their
subjects, even if those views are later proved wrong. Genuine irresponsibility
is when journalists consciously omit information or mischaracterize
views in the name of protecting popular conceptions or pleasing
-- Paul Philpott