AIDS in Africa: Medical Neocolonialism?
There is an approach which asks why
is this President of South Africa trying to give legitimacy to discredited
scientists, because after
all, all the questions of science concerning this matter had been resolved
by the year 1984. I don't know of any science that gets resolved
in that manner with a cut-off year beyond which science does not develop
any further. It sounds like a biblical absolute truth, and I do not
imagine that science consists of biblical absolute truths.
—Thabo Mbeki, President, South Africa, opening
address, first meeting of Presidential Advisory Panel on AIDS, Pretoria,
May 6, 2000
AIDS, HIV, and anti-retroviral drugs had
seldom blipped across my healthcare radar before last summer, when
I cautiously wrote my first
column on these polarized, politicized topics, an interview with medical
hypnotist Michael Ellner, president of HEAL (Townsend,
Aug./Sept. 2005). The column on Ellner dwelt on his experience during
the early period
of AIDS, starting in 1981 with the initial CDC report about the appearance
of this illness in five gay men in Los Angeles. Oriented toward nutritional
treatment for AIDS, Ellner mostly observed a relatively small subculture
of the New York City gay community, whose lifestyle included frequent
anal sex and heavy use of nitrites ("poppers") and other
recreational drugs. The column ended with Ellner's recollections
of the effects of AZT on people diagnosed with AIDS, right after treatment
with this highly toxic drug became the mainstream regimen (1987), and
many patients on the original high dosage died.
An interview with Dr. Roberto Giraldo followed (Townsend,
Oct.). Giraldo, a specialist in internal medicine, had predicted the
emergence of AIDS
among US gays while practicing in his native Colombia in the late 1970s.
Giraldo had extensively read studies about the sexual and drug habits
of gay men in the U.S. and Europe, and warned that continuation of
their lifestyle would result in the complete collapse of the immune
Giraldo maintained, and still maintains, that the immune deficiency
characteristic of AIDS is mainly a toxic reaction to the abuse of recreational
drugs and the often-accompanying malnourishment; he's never bought
into the theory that HIV is the cause of this condition. My column
on Giraldo ended with his relocation to the US in the late 1980s.
My next two columns on AIDS focused on sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in
the 1990s (Townsend, Nov. and Dec.).
These featured two field reports from Africa by investigative journalist
Celia Farber, published in
1993, and Farber's memories and reflections on polarized responses
to her efforts to get at the truth about African AIDS. She offered
the latter at an interview in Manhattan, her home base, this Sept.
As I begin the fifth in this unexpected series of columns on AIDS,
summing up the situation in Africa, my acquaintance with the medical
literature and journalism1 about this illness has broadened. Still,
I have reservations about the validity of much data for AIDS incidence,
transmission, and mortality in Africa. And I'm still stuck on
crucial questions concerning the accuracy of the media coverage and
analyses of the African AIDS scene, particularly those originating
in the West.
The Medical Establishment View of AIDS in Africa
Mainstream medicine's position
on the cause and treatment for African AIDS is the same as it is elsewhere
around the globe: Since
1984, HIV has been presumed to be the infectious agent. Since 1996,
AZT and protease inhibitors, in tandem, have constituted the presumed
How AIDS is defined, diagnosed, and thought to spread in Africa differ
markedly from the definition, criteria for diagnosis, and people at
greatest risk in the US, Europe, and certain developed nations elsewhere
in the world. My third column on AIDS (Nov. Townsend)
detailed these differences.
Here, I must stress that the varying definitions have fostered the
AIDS establishment's hypotheses that the illness mainly transmits
heterosexually in Africa. Foremost among the reasons put forward: unusual
promiscuity, and the supposedly common practice of "dry sex" (see
my December column for the latter). Pregnant women and nursing mothers
are thought to transmit HIV to fetuses and children.
I must also emphasize that the belief in heterosexual transmission
has engendered a corollary belief of sorts: HIV is rampantly epidemic
in sub-Saharan Africa, threatening to depopulate a number of countries
if unchecked by anti-retroviral drug therapy.
Critiques of Mainstream Positions on African AIDS
Research literature is available on
the prevalent views of African AIDS. Were I to review these studies
here, it might well lead to
yet another column on the subject. Were I to critique the AIDS establishment's
positions as briefly as possible, in addition to the likelihood of
oversimplifying them, I would plunge myself in a medical, political
whirlpool where only adept swimmers should venture. Instead, I'll
toss the critiquing to experts who doubt that HIV causes AIDS, contend
that the toxicity of anti-retroviral drugs outweighs possible therapeutic
benefits, and scoff at the idea of any heterosexually transmitted
AIDS pandemic in Africa.
Professor Peter Duesberg is the most frequently cited debunker of
HIV causation, the first distinguished scientist to publish a major
to the cardinal tenets of AIDS orthodoxy.2 Duesberg presented a paper
to the second meeting of the AIDS panel convened by South Africa President
Mbeki in Pretoria, June 22, 2000. He titled it, "The African
AIDS Epidemic: New and Contagious – Or – Old Under a New
Before zeroing in on African AIDS, Duesberg described elements that
historical microbial and viral epidemics had in common, listed in contrast
characteristics of diseases caused by factors which were chemical or
non-contagious or physical, and summarized in comparison the characteristics
of AIDS in the US and Europe.
He then analyzed AIDS in Africa, to see whether it measures up to the
historical and epidemiological literature, basing his analyses on data
from the WHO in Geneva, the UN, the US Agency for International Development,
and the US Census Bureau. I'll paraphrase some of his most astute
points and conclusions.
1. AIDS in Africa is not following the bell-shaped curve of an exponential
rise and subsequent steep drop with immunity of historical infectious
epidemics. Rather, it "drags on like an environmentally or nutritionally
induced disease," evidently affecting a very small segment of
the African population.
2. AIDS in Africa accounts for roughly 75,000 out of a total of approximately
12,300, 000 deaths per year, 0.6% of all mortality.
3. "It is impossible to distinguish clinically African AIDS [defined
chiefly by the Bangui definition] from previously recognized, concurrently
diagnosed, conventional African diseases." Unlike microbial conditions,
African AIDS is clinically unspecific, more like certain chemically
and nutritionally caused illnesses.
4. Estimated increases in HIV antibody-positive Africans do not seem
to correlate with decreases in population in any African nation. They
correlate instead with unprecedented simultaneous increases in population.
The population of Africa has leaped from 274 million (1960), to 356
million (1970), to 469 million (1980), to 616 million (2000).
5. The WHO reports African AIDS cases cumulatively (since they began
tracking AIDS) rather than annually, creating an "impression
of an ever growing, almost exponential epidemic, even if annual incidence
6. AIDS in African children is highly compatible with malnutrition,
parasitic infection, and poor sanitation – not with heterosexual
transmission of HIV. Thus, it's inappropriate to treat children
symptomatic of illnesses long recognized to be due to these conditions
with toxic DNA-chain terminators and other anti-HIV drugs.
I would add about the children that such treatment, lacking at the
very least a positive HIV antibody test, is also unethical.
Apart from Duesberg's critique, it's worth calling attention
to mainstream studies which show that it requires an average of 1,000
sex acts between discordant heterosexual couples (one HIV-positive,
the other negative) to pass along the virus – an impossibly slow,
ludicrously ineffective transmission rate.3
Finally, there is the corrosive power of the colossal amount of money
invested everywhere in AIDS research and treatment. Celia Farber and
other keen observers of the African AIDS scene have supplied examples
aplenty of the lavish sums available to AIDS research and treatment
facilities, to African MDs for attending AIDS conferences, in comparison
with the paltry funds doled out to deal with historical sub-Saharan
African diseases related to malnutrition, poverty, and unhealthy sanitation.4
Imagine under such circumstances the temptation for Africans dependant
on healthcare for a living to draw the AIDS net around as many people
as possible . . .
Comments by Dr. Roberto Giraldo and Michael Ellner
Interviewed in late April and late
August of 2005, Dr. Roberto Giraldo and Michael Ellner commented on
past and current developments in
African AIDS. Ellner and HEAL, the organization he directs, favor
immune-boosting nutritional treatments for AIDS, and work to educate
doctors worldwide about the benefits of nutritional therapy. Besides
internal medicine, Giraldo has specialized in infectious diseases.
He's also earned an MS in clinical tropical medicine. Over
the years, he's conducted much of his research in the area
of secondary or acquired immune deficiencies, especially those occurring
in developing nations. Since 2000, he's served as a member
of the South African Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel, and served
a number of African countries as advisor on nutrition and diseases
related to poverty.
Regarding the definition of AIDS by the WHO in Bangui in 1985, both
Giraldo and Ellner told me they clearly perceived the hand of the US
CDC pulling strings behind the scenes.5 Both were dismayed by official
awareness campaigns trumpeting that AIDS was inevitably a death sentence,
drummed into the minds of Africans not medically wise enough to shut
their ears to the hypnotic drumbeat. Celia Farber observed the same
effects of these campaigns in central Africa in the early 1990s: "AIDS
Brain," she said, was the term in widest circulation for the
terror they aroused, citing instances where patients with typical African
illnesses shunned medical clinics for fear that they would be more
profitably diagnosed, then treated for AIDS.6
"Out Of Africa" Once More, With
A sense of remoteness overcomes me
when I linger over academic discussions of diseases. I've devoted my career in healthcare to helping
patients survive life-threatening illness, to exposing conditions
and developments which hinder their recovery. Nearing the end of
my series of columns on AIDS, I feel an urge to return to excerpts
from Celia Farber's reports from the bush in Central Africa:
with the shock of a smack in the kisser, her word pictures give us
sharp close-ups of Africans – individuals sick, dying, or dead,
and their suffering kin – entangled in the mazy AIDS business.
"It was an eerie drive from the airport in Entebbe back to the hotel
in Kampala. Prior to Idi Amin, prior to the last three decades, Uganda
was known as the 'pearl of Africa,' and was said to be
one of the most beautiful places on earth. Some say that the Garden
of Eden was in Uganda. Now it is one of the poorest, disease-ridden
countries in Africa. It is also known as the AIDS center of the world.
The road to Kampala was lined with people building and selling coffins.
Simple wooden boxes with black crosses on the front . . .
"Sam and I were looking for a place to have lunch in downtown Kampala.
We went to a roadside café and ordered grilled chicken. Upon
asking for a toilet, I was shown through the kitchen and into the backyard,
where a whole separate world was bubbling. There were chicken parts
everywhere – heads, feet, feathers, and live chickens pecking
in the mud – women standing over vats of dirty water, rinsing
potatoes in them, coils of black smoke, and a rancid, oily stench.
The toilet was a shack with a hole in the ground. In fact, every toilet
I saw in Uganda, except in the hotel, was a hole in the ground. I went
to inspect the toilets at Mulago Hospital, the major hospital in Kampala,
and even there – a hole in the floor, covered in excrement and
buzzing with flies . . .
"Although the poverty in Uganda was shocking and brutal, it wasn't
the most distressing thing about it. The real depressing thing was
the lack of any kind of infrastructure. It seemed like chaos on earth,
genuine chaos . . . The government had crushed the country, the people,
and then vanished, and left a population steeped in lawlessness, chaos,
and poverty . . .
"There were power failures constantly. No medical supplies, even in
the hospitals. People were crammed throughout the corridors of the
hospitals, waiting, maybe for days, to get any attention . . . What
medication they had was poor quality, often too strong, unspecific,
and ineffective. People bought prescription medications from little
shacks called drugstores that had smuggled them from God knows where.
Deaths were not counted, except maybe at some hospitals, but many people
just died in the villages. It was not known how many people had died
in any given year, much less what the cause of death had been. To try
to make sense out of AIDS, with HIV tests and T-cell counts and clinical
case definitions, in this chaos seemed hopeless . . ." (Celia
Farber, "Out Of Africa," Parts One and For the Record Two, Spin, March, April 1993)
For the Record
In my interview with Celia Farber (Townsend,
Dec.), we touched on a dispatch in The
New York Times from
correspondent Rachel Swarns.7 Swarns
had attended an international AIDS panel convened by South Africa
President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria in 2000, and reported back that
he was aware that HIV causes AIDS. Farber attended the same conference,
and noted in a report she published that Mbeki said nothing of the
sort.8 In my column, I asked how Swarns could attribute
a total fabrication to Mbeki. Recently, curiosity compelled me to
get Mbeki's speech
and Swarns' news story from the library.
Here's what Mbeki really said: "What we knew (italics
added) was that there is a virus, HIV. The virus causes AIDS. AIDS
death and there's no vaccine against AIDS."9
Swarns' version went: "Today, Mr. Mbeki said that he and
his ministers know (italics
added) that the human immunodeficiency virus causes AIDS."
Swarns didn't fabricate. She took Mbeki's statement out
of context and changed the tense of the operative verb, misrepresenting
him; in essence, Mbeki was expressing a neutral position on HIV.
Again for the record: My reports on NY's Office of Professional
Medical Conduct in Townsend (they
began in 2001 and are ongoing), and my four columns in Townsend about
censorship in medicine (Aug./Sept.
through Dec. 2004) include many instances where theories on disease
causation in vogue were dead wrong, where treatments introduced into
community practice were later subjected to rigorous trial and proven
harmful, where the majority of physicians and medical researchers clamped
down dogmatically on free debate over appropriate treatment, where
research clinicians with approaches new to or different from the corpus
of accepted wisdom were ridiculed and denied funds to pursue and publish
In light of these instances, and there is in fact a lengthy list of
them, eventually acknowledged by the mainstream,10 why should theories
about the cause and treatment of AIDS be exempted from reexamination?
Why – without question – should the AIDS establishment
be handed "blank checks" on defining and managing AIDS
and its therapy?
What is there in the nature of AIDS that accords Western governments
and non-governmental organizations the right to "dictate" to
sovereign African governments policy on controlling AIDS and priorities
on healthcare spending?
Morally, the constructive course to follow in sub-Saharan Africa on
AIDS would be for the developed nations of the world to provide or
lend money to African countries: leave these countries to move forward
with desperately needed improvements in sanitation, to rebuild infrastructures
that bring adequate medical care to citizens afflicted by poverty-related
diseases, to relieve conditions that breed malnutrition (which perpetuates
susceptibility to the many illnesses that have ravaged Africa for
Above all, first wait and see if such improvements lower the death
rates among Africans. Then, if the alarming rise in deaths reported
in recent years doesn't abate, consider HIV as a possible reason,
and lend money on the stipulation that it must be used to block the
spread of AIDS. Then, but only then, get on with the condomizing of
sub-Saharan Africa, of every "underdeveloped" nation on
the globe where AIDS has manifested.
Books have been published on why the more likely course is the one
that Western governments and non-governmental organizations have already
shamelessly, evangelically taken,11 the one that promises profits for
the US and a sprinkle of other high-tech countries through what is
essentially a medical form of neocolonialism, the one that portends
an immense disaster for black Africans, especially women and children.
Note well in this connection: in university studies where Africans
clinically diagnosed with AIDS (according to the Bangui definition
and its variants) are tested serologically for HIV, the majority of
the test results prove antibody-negative!12
1. For example: Laurie Garrett, "The
Lessons of HIV/AIDS," Foreign
Affairs, July/Aug. 2005; and
Laurie Garrett, "HIV and National
Security: Where are the Links? A Council on Foreign Relations Report," Council
on Foreign Relations, Inc., NY, 2005. Garrett studied immunology in
graduate school, and her professional credentials include a Pulitzer
Prize. Today, she's a Senior Fellow for Global Health at the
Council on Foreign Relations. I dipped into the article and report
cited above. Her report depends heavily on secondary and tertiary sources – astonishingly
rare is a reference to a medical paper – and the analogy she
makes between the bubonic plague that rapidly decimated late medieval
Europe and the supposed AIDS pandemic now sweeping sub-Saharan Africa
is as strained and thin as boullion. A thorough examination online
under the title, "The Black Death of the
21st Century – a CFR Report," has
this pivotal sentence about Garrett's pieces: "Both are
either magisterial or drivel depending on where you stand on the basic
scientific assumptions of HIV/AIDS."
2. Duesberg P, Retroviruses as carcinogens and pathogens: expectations
and reality, Cancer Research,
3/1/87. Duesberg is Professor of Molecular Biology, University of California,
Berkeley. For additional articles
by Duesberg, see his website, Duesberg.com.
3. For example: Padian NS et al, Heterosexual transmission of human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in northern California: results from a
ten-year study, American Journal of Epidemiology,
8/15/97; also, Wawer MJ et al, Rates of HIV-1 transmission per coital
act, Rakai, Uganda,
Journal of Infectious Diseases,
4. Celia Farber, "Out Of Africa," Part One, Spin,
March 1993; Farber wrote: "AIDS generates far more money than any other
disease in Africa. In Uganda, for example, WHO allotted $6 million
for a single year, 1992–93, whereas all other infectious diseases
combined – barring TB and AIDS – received a mere $57,000." In
the same issue, Farber dug deeper into the funding situation: "Where
there was AIDS there was money – a brand new clinic, a new Mercedes
parked outside, modern testing facilities, high-paying jobs, international
conferences." She spoke about the AIDS money with a leading African
physician . . . who refused to be named. "'You have no
idea what you have taken on,' he said . . . 'You will never
get these doctors to tell you the truth. When they get sent on these
AIDS conferences around the world, the per diem they receive is equal
to what they earn a whole year at home.'"
5. Charles Geshekter, "A Critical Reappraisal of African AIDS
Research and Western Sexual Stereotypes," May 1999; accessible
via Virusmyth.com. Geshekter, Professor of African History, California
State University, Chico, is a member of the South African Presidential
AIDS Advisory Panel. Two sections in the paper by Geshekter cited here
detailed the CDC's role in the WHO definition of African AIDS
at Bangui in 1985 and exposed crude racist myths about African sexuality.
Geshekter's documentation is impressive. There's no space
here to exemplify it, but an excerpt from one paragraph summed up most
of the conclusions Geshekter drew from his profuse sources: "It
was upon these grossly unscientific claims, sweeping clinical generalizations,
western notions of sexual morality, and 19th century racist stereotypes
about Africans that AIDS became a 'disease by definition.' Africa
was assigned a central role in promoting the premise that AIDS was
everywhere and everyone was at risk." See Virusmyth.com for published
papers by Geshekter.
6. Celia Farber, "Out Of Africa," Part Two, Spin,
7. Rachel Swarns, "Mbeki Details Quest to Grasp South Africa's
AIDS Disaster, The New York Times,
8. Celia Farber, "AIDS & South Africa: A Contrary Conference
in Pretoria," New York Press,
9. Thabo Mbeki, text of the opening speech by the South Africa President,
first meeting of his Presidential Advisory Panel on AIDS, Pretoria,
5/6/00; accessible via virusmyth.com.
10. For example: Lawrence K. Altman, "Nobel Came After Years
Of Battling The System," The New
York Times, 10/11/05;
on the bacterial cause of ulcers, "just too wild a theory for
11. For example: Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The
Fates of Human Societies (1997). Diamond
is a MacArthur fellow, evolutionary biologist, and professor of physiology
at UCLA. Guns, Germs, and Steel
won a Pulitzer Prize. A sizable portion of the book, which dismantles
racially-based hypotheses of human history, traces the colonial exploitation
of black Africa from its origins to its current aftereffects.
12. For example: Ankrah TC et al, The African AIDS case definition
and serology . . . , West African Journal of Medicine,