Chief Family Practitioner and Head of Department of Family Medicine and Primary Care

By Joan Shenton

New African July - Aug. 2000

The following interview was taken in two parts. The first on April 7th in Johannesburg, the second in Pretoria on May 7, at the end of the second panel meeting.

JOAN SHENTON (JS): Can you tell me how long you first began to question the "orthodox" view, weíll call it, that HIV is a virus that causes AIDS?

PROF SAM MHLONGO (SM): I was a Family Practitioner [in London] in the area controlled by Brent and Harrow Health Services and my practice was in Neasden. I practised there for some 17 years before returning to South Africa a year ago.

In 1988-89, because of the Civil War in Uganda, several people were arriving in area of Neasden short of money, no housing, and since they were registered with me they got to know that if they had a doctorís letter to the Council they might be housed. But additionally those who could demonstrate that they were unwell and sick, disabled, could be housed very quickly. Out of the families that came to register with me eleven heads of families came with certificates to confirm that they were HIV positive. They were tested in Uganda. But because I had to produce evidence that they were positive even with our tests in England, I then drew blood myself personally with the patientsí consent and permission and sent it to the Central Middlesex Hospital. This blood was tested there for HIV1 and HIV2.

Both were negative in all of the eleven cases. So I began to wonder what is actually happening in Africa - although I wasnít living in Africa - that it is possible either that people are getting certificates for money or second that the tests that are being carried out in Africa are false. So I began to have an interest in trying to find out all about HIV/AIDS. I could accept AIDS itself as a syndrome, but an HIV diagnosis - to be HIV positive - began to concern me.

JS: Can you describe to me how this initiative came about in South Africa - to have an Expert Panel to analyse the science behind AIDS?

SM: T his came as a result of the President becoming concerned about the science of HIV/AIDS.I donít think he has serious concerns about AIDS as such. I mean AIDS simply means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome which one encounters in all sorts of diseases. But itís a question of being positive which began to worry the President. I respect him a lot because he reads extensively and he began to come across information that there could be another view. So he wants to have the issue in the open and discussed openly from all sides.

And when he was looking around in South Africa he came across my name - in a roundabout way - that there was a professor at MEDUNSA who was trained in England, just returned, and he holds a different view. I went to his [the Presidentís] residence in Pretoria and spent some five hours with him and the Vice President, where we actually discussed the panel - whether the view that I represent would be represented in the panel. The President assured me that he would work hard to see that there is a balanced approach to the whole thing. That both sides must be heard before a decision is taken.

JS: Whatís your view of the reaction thereís been to the panel?

SM: Well I feel the reaction from the ill-informed public - more or less disinformation - with regard to the views such as I hold about doubting the existence of HIV as such - the general public in South Africa are not really very sympathetic because they are poorly informed for an obvious reason. The "dissident" view, ("dissident" in quotes - because I donít really regard myself as a dissident, Iím just merely a scientist), the dissident view has not really been publicised as much as the orthodox view. We do not have the funds that they have. I have actually written in the Sunday Independent in South Africa that if only we had one hundredth of the funds that the orthodox view has, this orthodox view would probably be dead in less than a year.

JS: Do you feel that there is really very strong opposition from financial interests - vested interests?

SM: The vested interests in South Africa are enormous. There are all these people who are doing research in relation to Wellcome and Glaxo. And they have research grants via the MRC, the Medical Research council, and did theyíre wrong - and in my view they ARE wrong - if theyíre proved to be wrong then the research funding will stop and their careers are at stake and the "orthodox" view is extremely worried about the "non-orthodox" view - that is the questions that we are putting forward about the existence of HIV.

When you question them and ask "Please show us the micrograph of HIV" we have been shown several micrographs of other viruses. For example the human papilloma virus - I have a picture of it there in my office for everyone to see - but the HIV virus - all we are shown is particles and they are saying that the particles are enough. As far as my information in virology is concerned and the laws of virology, particles alone are not sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a particular virus. You must be specific - isolate the whole thing - the whole virus, and this they have not done.

JS: How serious could the opposition become?

SM: My concern is that itís more or less like football hooliganism in England. I feel that they may hire mobs of people related to patients who are suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome due to poverty and other diseases in Africa - thereís about 29-30 diseases which will make you present with acquired immune deficiency - I feel the relatives of these sick people may be hired to disrupt any meetings that we may have. And these are scientists.These are so-called scientists - acquiring mobs. Tell me how is that different from Goebbels in Germany with his science?

JS: What would you like to see happen?

SM: I would like an informed debate between us so-called "dissidents" and the "orthodox" scientists. I would like the "orthodox" scientists to come out with a purified micrograph of the HIV virus demonstrating to us that this virus exists. And I would like the "orthodox" scientists to begin to acknowledge that in Africa there diseases - 29-30 diseases - which may mimic AIDS. They must really begin to acknowledge this, including hypoprotinaemia which is related to poverty.

But they will not accept that because poverty does not make big money but HIV makes them money. I would like them to begin to acknowledge the existence of several diseases in Africa which make African people ill. And I would like them second to acknowledge that if these Africans like these Ugandans I tested, I actually tested and Iím prepared to swear on oath that I tested eleven people - I would like them to acknowledge that most African who are said to be positive, if they were to move from Africa to Europe, to America or Australia, most of them, probably 80% would be negative.

(begin second part)

JS: How do you feel now at the end of this Expert Panel? What do you feel has been achieved?

SM: I think for the first time - and Iím going to use "orthodox" in inverted commas and "dissident" in inverted commas - the two views have come together. All because President Mbeki created this chance which has never been created anywhere in the world. So from that point of view I think it was useful. So that the other side - the "orthodox" view could not name-call the so-called "dissidents" because that has been the tendency. Not so much in scientific journals but in their popular press because they have had more coverage. They have called us names but it was not possible to do that in these four walls here. They had to listen to us and we listened to them. But weíve been listening to them since 1982. So for the first time they had a chance to listen to us.

JS: It was said at the press conference that a series of studies are going to be set up that will include, shall we say, scientists like Professor Duesberg who have challenged the virus/AIDS hypothesis in the past. Can you tell me a little bit about these experiments?

SM: Yes.At this stage they have really not been clearly defined and I wasnít part of the group.However, it was quite clear that they will look at previous data and data collection - epidemiological studies - and see whether they make any sense. It is possible that when they find that some of the things are not adequately explained they may design new experiments or collect new data to have some access to the questions raised.

JS: Until now the "orthodoxy" has maintained that there is no question about the aetiology, or the cause of AIDS - that HIV is definitely the cause of AIDS. How do you feel today with the setting up of these studies that are going to look into the aetiology of AIDS? Is that a step forward?

SM: Well in a way it a step forward because the way you have asked the question, you have not suggested whether HIV is the cause of AIDS. Youíve said - what is the cause of AIDS? I think it is worthwhile to look into the questions as to what is making black Africans so sick in Africa, when their counterparts in Europe - heterosexuals Iím talking about - are not even half as sick. So we will have to look at this and see what is making Africans sick. Nobody has convinced me that HIV is what is making them sick. AIDS is making them sick - Acquired Immune Deficiency - because of 70 different conditions that make them sick. We need to look at those and other environmental issues which I actually raised. I spent some 7-8 years being a Family Physician and Primary Health Care physician. I feel it was relevant for someone like me to be present here because I look at broader issues laterally. How people are affected. How families are affected, thatís why I am here.

JS: How do you feel right now at the end of it all?

SM: I am as confident as I was when I left South Africa in 1963 that one day we will defeat apartheid. I feel AIDS - and Iím not talking about HIV - AIDS would be defeated in Africa just as much as serious infectious diseases were defeated in Europe.