RETHINK NEEDED ON AZT
AND THE CAUSE OF AIDS
By Marten du Plessis
Financial Mail (South Africa) 10 Nov. 1999
President Thabo Mbeki's common-sense stand on the issue of AZT may be the
catalyst for a more open discussion of the HIV/AIDS issue.
Just as the tobacco companies maintained for so long that two packs a day
constituted the breakfast of champions, so has Glaxo-Wellcome continued to
insist in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that AZT has
AZT is a highly toxic chemotherapy that lays waste to the immune system and
produces the symptoms of AIDS. There's plenty of evidence to suggest that
treatment with AZT has been responsible for many of the deaths attributed to
HIV and AIDS in the US. (A detailed account of the AZT controversy appears
in the coming issue of noseweek.)
As this becomes more widely known, it may create a climate where people -
particularly practising physicians - are ready to hear the reservations of
those who doubt that HIV is the cause of AIDS.
In SA, few people realise there are serious arguments against this seemingly
monolithic theory, or that the sceptics include hundreds of eminent
scientists and activists - as well as two Nobel prize-winning biologists.
Those who have a justifiably high regard for the achievements of science and
medical research might be surprised to find out just how unscientific some
of the politics in HIV science has been.
In 1984, Dr Robert Gallo announced he had discovered antibodies to a
supposed new virus in 36 of 72 patients at risk for AIDS, and that this
virus was "the probable cause of AIDS".
Even though Gallo had not long previously made the exciting, if erroneous,
discovery of a virus that supposedly caused leukaemia, he managed to
side-step the scientific safeguards of peer review and prior publishing for
his AIDS announcement.
Thousands of virologists who had spent the previous 20 years searching for
what were thought to be the virological causes of cancer were rapidly
running out of career options.
US medical bureaucrats were battling a rampant budget-cutting Reagan
For both, the discovery of a new virus requiring research, management and
federal funding - and holding out the promise of prestige and awards - was
the equivalent of a gold strike that may have prompted a too hasty
acceptance of Gallo's claims.
It later emerged that Gallo had not discovered a virus at all, but had
simply "misappropriated" a sample of a supposed retrovirus sent to him in
the interests of scientific co-operation by French researcher Dr Luc
Montagnier had claimed a year earlier to have identified a new retrovirus,
but not that it was the cause of AIDS.
A bitter dispute arose between them that eventually had to be settled in
negotiations between Presidents Reagan and Mitterrand.
Gallo and Montagnier agreed to share credit as co-discoverers of HIV, and
also to share royalties from the HIV test patented by Gallo.
The controversy led to a congressional investigation which reported in 1990
that Gallo "had created and fostered conditions that gave rise to
falsified/fabricated data and falsified reports".
So what's that got to do with today? Well, say the critics, Gallo's dodgy
science remains the basis on which billions of dollars have been spent on
In "discovering" HIV, Gallo identified, or misidentified, those proteins and
nucleic acids supposedly unique to HIV, which are used as markers for HIV in
the HIV test and research.
But, as Etienne de Harven, professor emeritus of pathology at the University
of Toronto, recently observed, "the specificity of viral markers depends on
the success of viral isolation and purification, but the virus (HIV) has
never been properly isolated".
Montagnier conceded in 1997 that the virus had not been purified, and HIV
experts showed in electron photomicrographs published in 1997 that there is
no such thing as purified HIV.
Other researchers have found that the supposedly unique protein markers of
HIV are found in places where HIV is not diagnosed.
In 1998, HIV researchers in Tanzania were surprised to find that simply
providing pregnant HIV-positive women with multivitamins resulted in
healthier babies and a noticeable increase in post-natal immunities.
Sceptics accept that there is a high correlation between having AIDS and
testing HIV-positive, but they say this result is frequently a result of
ill-health and never a cause.
It is increasingly apparent that many people who test HIV-positive never
develop AIDS. In the US, what they most frequently have in common is an
avoidance of AZT.
All the dire predictions about AIDS have failed absolutely. This is despite
the fact that the US Centers for Disease Control has been quietly expanding
the definition of AIDS to include more and more indicator diseases.
All this argues for the thorough reappraisal of the theory as requested by
the HIV sceptics in the form of an international, independently adjudicated
But the AIDS establishment is outraged by any suggestion of a debate. The
current tactic is to compare those who question the HIV hypothesis to those
who deny there was a holocaust.
But it's a debate we really need, particularly before we start giving AZT to
Du Plessis is managing editor of noseweek.