APRIL 2000 



Government and university officials encourage, attend, participate

Just before the upcoming July World AIDS Conference in South Africa started looking like it might give the HIV-AIDS critics its first serious hearing, India convened a full-fledged AIDS reappraisal summit on January 30 and 31. The meeting rivaled the 1997 Colombian conference (RA Feb-Mar 1998) in terms of attendance, official approval, and favorable publicity. Entitled the "International Conference on the Validity of HIV/AIDS Programs, Including Methods of Testing," the government-sanctioned event attracted 100 attendees and took place at the Public Health Institute in Nagpur, Maharastra, in central India. A cadre of journalists from the nation's leading media outlets covered the event prominently and accurately, according to Roberto Giraldo, MD, who attended as the RA Group's Board representative.

Giraldo presented lectures on the inaccuracy of the tests for HIV and the non-HIV causes of AIDS, such as drugs and malnutrition. Two other RA Group members traveled internationally to participate: French research physician Etienne de Harven (RA Nov-Dec 1998) lectured on HIV purification and isolation; and German physician Claus Kohnlein discussed the toxicity of anti-HIV medications. Most of the attendees were Indian physicians and medical scientists, including Indian representatives to the World Health Organization.

"Our conference coincided with an orthodox AIDS conference also in Nagpur, organized by the Indian Academy of Medical Sciences," Giraldo says. "Yet ours dominated the mainstream print and broadcast news. The papers and magazines ran headlines on their front pages and covers, such as: ‘Divergent views on cause of AIDS trigger controversy;’ ‘Is HIV the cause of AIDS? Two events have contradictory views;’ ‘Dogmatic views of the West challenged at conference on AIDS;' 'Researchers demolish myths about AIDS;' 'Hypothesis that HIV causes AIDS, a sham: Dr. de Harven;’ ‘AIDS: Virulent myth;’ ‘It isn't HIV that causes AIDS?’; ‘WHO adopts defensive stance over anti-HIV campaigners’ contention.’"

The three international participants–Giraldo, de Harven, and Kohnlein–sat for two press conferences, the first attended by 15 mainstream journalists, the second by fifty. The journalists treated the dissident physicians with a great deal of serious interest and respect. Their reports appeared in all the major news outlets, and constituted what major western journalists rarely produce: accurate and insightful stories about AIDS and critics of the HIV model. A month after the Nagpur meeting, newspapers and magazines were still publishing stories about the conference.

The conference was remarkable both for the large number of scientists and physicians who doubt the HIV model, and for the attitudes of those who don't. "Most panelists and audience members supported or sympathized with our views," Giraldo says. "Defenses of the HIV-AIDS model arose from the WHO representatives, the director of the Indian National Institute of Virology, and Nagpur health authorities. This led to some hot moments. But a spirit of professionalism brought even the tensest contentions to a friendly close. I don't know of such a free exchange of ideas ever occurring in the United States in which government officials and funded researchers participated."

On February 7, Giraldo lectured at Nerhu University's Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, in New Delhi, at the invitation of epidemiology professor Ritu Priya, MD, a conference participant. Since 1994 she has published articles critical of India's official AIDS programs, which derive exclusively from the orthodox HIV-AIDS model.

The conference arose from the efforts of nutritionist Shantilal Kothari, president of the Academy of Nutrition Improvement, who last year created the 200-strong HIV-positive People's Club for people diagnosed as "HIV positive" or having AIDS. From his home in Nagpur, Kothari persuaded major newspapers across the country over the years to publish many of his essays questioning the HIV-causes-AIDS model. His regular petitions to Indian officials, suggesting that they reappraise the HIV-AIDS model as well, met with no success. Despite arriving in envelopes stuffed with scientific documents supporting his perspective, no officials indicated they would consider that factors besides HIV might explain AIDS, and that perhaps HIV was not to blame at all.

That changed when he staged a hunger strike to gain attention from officials. On August 10, 1999 a representative of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare asked him to organize an international conference with experts and scientists from both sides of the HIV/AIDS debate. The ministry made available the venue and promised its own officials would participate and give the alternative AIDS views a fair hearing. According to Giraldo, the officials did attend and seriously considered all perspectives presented at the conference. For a complete report, more information, or the official conference proceedings, contact RA.

--Paul Philpott