REJOINDER TO HEIN MARAIS’ “MAKING SENSE OF THE INDEFENSIBLE”

In his article in the Mail and Guardian of 5 April 2012, published under the headline “Making sense of the indefensible”, Hein Marais used the word ‘denialist’ three times and ‘denialism’ ten times. He is attempting to show that former President Thabo Mbeki and his inner circle mishandled the Aids epidemic. He writes, “Together, they are said to have devised and enforced an irrational and deadly set of positions that, according to one study, led to about 330,000 avoidable deaths”. Let us examine how irrational and deadly is the position of the so-called “Aids denialists”.

I will begin by quoting from a study which stated that, “Over the years, Aids researchers have pointed to sub-Saharan Africa – Uganda, in particular – as the epicentre of the so-called Aids epidemic. It has been estimated that one in 40 Africans will die of Aids, and that Aids will account for 500,000 deaths a year by the year 2000. But in recent years, some Aids researchers have come forward to question not only the validity of those projections, but the very notion that Aids is pandemic in Africa”.

The makers of “Aids in Africa” one of the “Dispatches” series of documentaries, investigated Aids in sub-Saharan Africa and reached some startling conclusions. Dr. Harvey Bialy said that there was “absolutely no believable evidence of immunodeficiency disease in Africa”. Likewise, Professor Gordon Stewart, the only researcher to accurately predict Aids statistics in the United Kingdom, found no evidence of an Aids epidemic in Africa and believes that statements of doom should be avoided.

Their reasoning is that no one in sub-Saharan Africa receives a blood test for Aids, so diagnoes of the disease – and thus statistics on the rate of Aids – are based purely on patients’ symptoms. Those who have the three main symptoms of Aids stated in international guidelines – a persistent fever, diarrhea, and a dry cough for a month or more – are classified as Aids cases. The problem is, these symptoms are indistinguishable from those of malaria and tuberculosis. Therefore, many cases of malaria and TB are being incorrectly classified as Aids. Data on Aids in Africa is riddled with contradictions. There are a lot of problems with the way Aids is defined in Africa.

It has been reported that Aids in Africa, Europe and the US has not spread to the general population; it continues to be concentrated in high risk groups. Dr Charles Thomas, a former Harvard Professor, said proponents of HIV-Aids connection have yet to offer any “genuine scientific proof” that the virus causes Aids. He continued to say, “Any time scientists propose that a micro-organism causes a disease, it’s incumbent upon them to come up with proof that it does. So far they have failed to supply that proof”. Dr Roger Cunningham, an immunologist and microbiologist said in addition to what Dr. Thomas said, certain rules of science must be followed for any agent to be considered a causative factor in the disease.

The first rule is that an agent that’s going to be blamed for a disease should be able to be isolated from each and every case of disease. That’s not true with HIV and Aids. The second step, according to Dr Cunningham, is that you should be able to transmit the agent that is causing the infectious disease to another animal and have the disease develop in that animal. He says to the best of his knowledge, that has never been done with the agent we call HIV. The final step is to remove the agent from the animal which has been infected, put it into another animal, and transmit the disease in this fashion. This, too, has not occurred with HIV.

Dr. Arthur Gottlieb, Chairperson of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Tulane University School of Medicine, agrees that too little is known about HIV to conclude that it causes Aids on its own. He says this is a very complex disease that is poorly understood. He says a lot is known about the HI virus; it’s probably been the most extensively studied virus ever. But in spite of that, we know relatively little about how the virus acts to cause disease. Dr. Gottlieb says the viewpoint has been so firm that HIV is the only cause and will result in disease in every patient, that anyone who challenges that is regarded as ‘politically incorrect” (a denialist). He says he doesn’t think – as a matter of public policy- we gain by that, because it limits debate and discussion and focuses drug development on attacking the virus rather than attempting to correct the disorder of the immune system, which is central to the disease.

Professor Richard Strohman, a biologist for 35 years and Professor Emeritus of cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, believes HIV may be completely unrelated to Aids, but that we have no way of knowing this because scientists will not even entertain the possibility that their HIV theory is incorrect. “In the old days it was required that a scientist address the possibilities of proving his hypothesis wrong as well as right. Now there’s none of that in standard HIV-Aids programme with all its billions of dollars”, says Dr. Strohman.

In his article, Marais wrote, inter alia, that, “The popular understanding of Aids has long been invested with stereotypes and prejudice, including ones that pathologise African sexuality. These follow sturdy traditions. For more than two centuries, those kinds of imageries have served as a screen on which Western cultures have projected their own, contrasting self-portraits of restraint, purity and rationality.

“The linking of race, libido and death in colonialist discourses – and the apparent complicity of medical and social science in this – was on loud display in South Africa, not least during the syphilis scares of the 1930’s and 1940’s, when African men were cast as voracious sexual predators. Such themes would remain a staple of the racist imagination. It is no accident that Mbeki’s more florid interventions on Aids all bristled with awareness of those histories”.

Marais talks of “the syphilis scares of the 1930’s and 1940’s”. I am aware of the Tuskeegee syphilis experiment also knownsn as the Tuskeegee syphilis study or Public Health Service syphilis study which was an infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskeegee, Alabama by the US Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in poor, rural Black men who thought they were receiving free health care from the US government.

The 40-year study was controversial for reasons related to ethical standards, primarily because researchers knowingly failed to treat patients appropriately after the 1940’s validation of penicillin as an effective cure for the disease they were studying. Revelation of study failures by a whistleblower led to major changes in US law and regulation on the protection of participants in clinical studies. Now studies require informed consent (with exception possibly for US Federal agencies which can be kept secret by Executive Order, communication of diagnosis and accurate reporting of test results. A leak to the press eventually resulted in its termination.

The victims of the study included numerous men who died of syphilis, wives who contracted the disease, and children born with congenital syphilis. It wasn’t syphilis scares of the 1930’s and 1940’s, it was Blacks being used as guinea pigs as they are still being used today under the ANC government to test Aids vaccines and drugs. Moreover, it was carried out during the 1930’s until 1972 and there were fatalities.

Biological and chemical warfare experiments didn’t start with Wouter Basson and will not end with him. They were first used during Wordl War 1 to gas Algerians and French reserve forces by the German army. There was stockpiling of biologocal weapons during World War 2 and the decades afterward as well as the inhuman experiments conducted to test their effectiveness, according to A Higher Form of Killing by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman.

Finally, on “family planning and rendering Africans infertile” they are old white supremacist techniques which go back to the Eugenics movement that sought to reduce the populations of African people. These are real and not the figment of the African people’s imaginations.

By Sam Ditshego
(The writer is a Senior Researcher at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI) )