Conference revealed a great deal of hypocrisy

By Anita Allen

Citizen (South Africa) 18 July 2000

The hypocrisy in the AIDS arena, goes so deep we’ll need a bulldozer to shovel it out. So let me start doing just that.

The decision by the South African government to extend dual basic rights of our Constitution - freedom of speech and association – equally to all scientists in the HIV/AIDS debate, has been vilified.

Among Influential South Africans caught up in the hypocrisy is Mr Justice Edwin Cameron of our High Court and Acting Judge of our Constitutional Court, who publicly denounces the only existing forum in the world for open debate of HIV/AIDS – our own Cabinet-approved Presidential Aids Advisory Panel. Doesn’t that sound just a little strange?

Fifteen months ago, when I first spoke to the top scientists in HIV/AIDS field in this country, none of them had even heard that there was vigorous opposition to HIV-causes-AIDS orthodoxy by a growing minority of their colleagues. They didn’t know their opposing colleagues by name, not even arch-rebel Professor Peter Duesberg – and they had not know their views.

But when the Ministry of Health first announced the government’s intention of convening an AIDS panel that would give all scientists an equal opportunity to present their views, suddenly, the debate was an old one, long ago settled - though no one could say when or where. The Durban 2000 organisers kept the lid on it by taking the decision not to accept dissident papers submitted for presentation.

Yet, a sampling from many, but not all sides of the HIV/AIDS spectrum accepted, or were pushed into accepting the invitation of a President they dubbed as a cheeky non-scientist who didn’t know his place. They engaged in two days of electrifying debate which gobsmacked South African observers at the Sheraton Hotel, Pretoria.

Two journalists took the advantage to ask for an electron microscope of the phantom HIV. To date, the challenge to table this through the panel as proof of the HI retrovirus’ existence has yet to be fulfilled.

A six-week Internet discussion followed the Sheraton meeting, but establishment HIV/AIDS experts did their best not to participate. Instead, many of them signed the misnamed, and sterile “Durban” Declaration.

The same lack of intellectual vigour was evident during the five days of the Durban Conference. The only picture of HIV was a slide included in a presentation by US media darling Dr David Ho. For brief seconds I wondered what correlation the bloated image had to the devilishly sly phantom that no scientist has yet been able to separate out of cellular debris? I still cannot answer this because Ho’s presentation was the only one not available in hardcopy to the media. The disc on which it was stored could not be opened, I was told. As one South African government spokesperson then commented: “Maybe it’s a case of Ho-ho-ho?

Most of the delegates at Durban 2000 were people who came in humility to learn about the dreaded pandemic and what they could do to halt suffering. Many were better informed than those at Geneva 1998, thanks to the ever more vigorous debate here and abroad raised by the African leader and his chosen ones who want the scientist in Africans to wake up.

What they got was volumes of information on antiretroviral drugs, new and old, that do not stop the replication of HIV, and to date have failed to save a single life.

To help drive the message home a professional rent-a-crowd from ACT UP staged outrageous “incidents” for camera’s tired of talking heads. The ACT UP coalition is funded by pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp and Dohme, executive director Jeffrey Sturchio admitted to me after having allowed ACT UP to plaster his company’s stand with graffiti demanding cheap - and more - drugs for Africa. A few hours earlier, Boehringer Ingelheim staff froze when ACT UP did the same thing to its stand and stood around smoking in a no-smoking hall. “We are HIV positive,” they replied when I asked them why they were flouting South African law.

So, if the HIV doesn’t get them, then lung cancer will and they will be yet another AIDS-related statistic, along with all those made ill by their toxic smoke clouds? Can’t you see your hypocrisy, I asked them?

With saturated drug markets and a declining HIV/AIDS rate in developed countries, the developing world is the emerging market for drugs. That’s why the combined Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association is taking the South African government to court to prevent it from obtaining cheaper drugs and generics from countries not covered by patents. This is profiteering, not saving African lives.

As the hours and days went by and the contradictions mounted, audiences in the Science Programme halls dwindled in direct proportion to growing numbers lazing and grazing in the balmy subtropical sun. But the American Foundation for AIDS Alternatives, and the hunger strikers from Spain’s Plural 21 coalition for people living with AIDS had a steady stream of inquisitors. There was a moment of violence when one of only a dozen brazen rebels was crowned with a bowl of curry and rice by an opponent who objected to his right to be there and say whatever he wanted.

The only way forward offered by conference speakers was drugs and more drugs - and $400 million to buy them offered as loans for African countries so that they can slide further into debt.

Durban 2000 ended with an orgy of back slapping and an immediate call to start preparing for the next johl to an exotic venue – Barcelona 2002.

Within minutes of Nelson Mandela’s clarion call to all sides in the HIV/AIDS to put aside rhetoric and work together for the common good, Durban 2000 chairman Professor Hoosen Coovadia, a signatory of the Durban Declaration and an AIDS Advisory panelist, declared: “The AIDS Advisory panel is in disarray. I hope it will be disbanded.”

Asked to set the record straight, Minister in the President’s Office Essop Pahad commented to me: “Professor Coovadia has an inalienable right to participate or not participate in any discussion he wishes. But it is disingenuous of not mischievous of him to say that the AIDS Advisory Panel is in disarray.

“It is not in disarray. The last meeting took the decision to continue further work. Moreover, Minister of Health Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang made it clear that those who wished to participate could continue, and those that didn’t it was their decision.

“The South African Government will not be intimidated into taking any rash actions and remains deeply committed to deepening its understanding of the AIDS pandemic, including HIV.”

Make no mistake, establishment HIV/AIDS is fascist science. Calls for the criminalisation of so-called dissidents is on the rise. Mark Wainberg, president of the International Aids Society again supported this in a video taped interview at the conference. But the clearest image of how this is paralyzing braincells is Nobel Peace Prize-winning Medecins sans Frontiers members at the opening of the conference marching alongside a banner proclaiming: “One dissident, one bullet”.

Is this not science down the barrel of a gun? Are South Africans really so illiterate that they buy this boloney? Stop dozing, I say, and start shovelling.