Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Harper's Magazine: HIV Does Not Cause AIDS

For the moment, put aside the fact that Harper's diagnosing AIDS is like The New Yorker repairing transmissions. Let's talk about how a generally well-edited magazine that has turned out good journalism for 150 years can piss it all away in 15 pages.

Celia Farber spent most of her career trying to convince readers of Spin magazine that HIV does not cause AIDS. Back in the 80s, there was a legitimate question as to the cause of AIDS, even if Spin seems like a strange place to debate the answer. By the early 90s, there was no longer any scientific doubt about the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS, so why did she keep teaching the controversy along with such luminaries in the field as Thabo Mbeki? Dunno. But Harper's bought her pitch of an article about her hero/cult leader and prime mover of the "HIV is benign and AIDS is due to toxins" universe, Peter Duesberg.

In the piece, Farber spins a web of half-truths about AIDS research. For example, in the late 90s, a trial of a then-experimental drug, nevirapine, was undertaken to see if it could reduce transmission of HIV from pregnant mothers to their children. It did--substantially--but many of the women did not receive proper explanation of the study's purpose or give consent to participate, and a number of people taking nevirapine succumbed to liver failure, which is essentially fatal in third world places where nevirapine was tested. So, Boehringer Pharmaceuticals should be beaten within a inch of their lives for giving people medicine without explaining what the risks and benefits of the drug were. That being said, a few people with AIDS dying of liver failure might be an acceptable risk to take if you can prevent an enormous number of babies from being born with HIV, and the more important concept, now that we have safer drugs than nevirapine, is that treating HIV infection in pregnant mothers prevents HIV and AIDS in their children. Farber, though, says that Big Pharma tricked a few thousand people into taking a poison for the purpose of killing a few dozen. South Africa's Treatment Action Committee, with the help of such notables as Robert Gallo, the scientist who first isolated and described HIV, continues with a 37-page, point-by-point rebuttal of Farber's tripe here.

Farber's article would have been fine if she had presented the views of Duesberg and friends, perhaps mentioning how their "virusmythology" lets nutjob politicians like Mbeko get away with ignoring the suffering and death of AIDS patients every day. But she presents all this mumbo jumbo as if it is taken seriously among medical scientists, as if Harper's should convince the world of it. Disgusting.

For our part, we'd like to refer you to The Body for HIV/AIDS information, before we mislead you any further.

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