By Michael Zonta

San Francisco Bay Times 31 Aug. 2000

Christine Maggiore and her fiancé, Robin Scovill, fresh from a lambasting by Newsweek magazine in which they were likened to Holocaust deniers, presented their viewpoint of the South Africa AIDS Conference in Durban which took place in July of this year. Maggiore is the author of "What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?" and also founder of Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives in Los Angeles, which disagrees with the orthodox view that HIV causes AIDS.

As I arrived at the meeting at UC Extension's Richardson Hall, I was greeted by some members of the AIDS orthodoxy who were handing out a photocopy of a nine-page article from the website of The Village Voice entitled: "Proof Positive: How African Science Has Demonstrated That HIV Causes AIDS." I read about three pages into it as I waited for the meeting to start. It cited African studies in which HIV was present in people who developed AIDS, bit it did not prove that HIV was the causal agent. My opinion of The Village Voice plummeted.

The meeting began. There were probably between 100-125 in attendance, far fewer than I had expected given Maggiore's national exposure, although the fact that ACT UP/SF was co-sponsoring the event may have kept many away.

Maggiore gave a very personable presentation. She is a slight, young woman with a no-nonsense yet accessible manner. Her fiancé the handsome Robin Scovill, sat beside her on the dais as she spoke of their trip to South Africa. Being an openly dissident group, they were afraid that they would be denied a place at the conference by the planners, but somehow the rejection letter never came, so they bought their ticket at the last moment and set up their booth and pretty much stayed there around the clock. Response was generally favorable, Ms. Maggiore said, especially by the South Africans -- both the general public and doctors and scientists. European and American response was generally not so favorable.

Maggiore reiterated the theme that South Africa wanted to find its own solution to the problem of AIDS, not just accept Western ideas. After the conference was over, she got a chance to meet Winnie Mandela, former wife of Nelson Mandela and still widely respected as "Mother Africa." Winnie Mandela's reception, at first, was very cold, because she felt the dissidents were undermining all the work she and others had done in their safe sex campaigns. But Maggiore was able to win her over, she said, ending up by Winnie Mandela asking her, "What shall we do about AIDS in South Africa?" Maggiore also met briefly with President Thabo Mbeki.

The highlight of the evening was a film made by her fiance Robin Scovill. This was a 40-minute film about their trip to South Africa. Highlights from the film were an interview with Dr. Mark Wainberg, Ph.D., of the International AIDS Society (IAS). Dr. Wainberg termed UC Berkeley retrovirologist Dr. Peter Duesberg (a prominent AIDS dissident) a "scientific psychopath" and likened him to Adolf Hitler. Wainberg also stated his opinion that there ought to be some provision made in the U.S. Constitution for it to be illegal to oppose the proposition that HIV causes AIDS. Compared to these breathtaking views, the rest of the film seemed tame. Dr. Duesberg himself was briefly interviewed and noted that before he began expressing doubt about the orthodox view that HIV causes AIDS in the late 80's, he was a highly reputable scientist and his research grants were routinely approved. Now his orthodox colleagues get all the grant approvals plus millions of dollars from corporations and scientific foundations, while he has had to learn to get by on a UC salary. Duesberg likened using AZT in the fight against AIDS as akin to using nuclear weapons against bunny rabbits.

Scovill and Maggiore also interviewed Winston Zulu, an articulate black South African who has been HIV positive and in good health since 1990 without the use of any medication. Zulu pointed out that he didn't understand how all scientists could agree that AZT is a DNA terminator and yet not have a problem giving AZT to pregnant women.

Another interviewee was 11-year-old Nkosi Johnson, who was kind of the HIV poster boy for South Africa. Nkosi was visibly weak and sick as he spoke of his wish to be normal and not have to take all the medicines, especially AZT, which he had agreed to take. On film, Maggiore told Nkosi her own story of being healthy without taking medications, but Nkosi remained unconvinced. He had been taking the cocktail of medicines including AZT for four years before he became symptomatic at age seven.

Some participants from ACT UP Paris were interviewed. They were asked about the pharmaceutical campaign for universal use of retrovirals to combat AIDS in South Africa. They admitted receiving money from pharmaceutical companies to promote this campaign, but saw no problem with that, since they were taking the retrovirals themselves.

Also featured was another long-term survivor from Spain who had given up "eating" his medicines and was told by his doctors that he would only have a year to live because of it -- and that was six years ago. He noted, in an understated way, that for a doctor to tell someone that they are going to die is not a good thing. Charles Geshekter, Ph.D., from Chico State University pointed out in the film that is there really are 4.2 million people with HIV in South Africa, as projected, how come there are only about 13,000 actual registered cases of AIDS?

Following the film was a question and answer period. The first questioner asked in an obviously belligerent way what proof Maggiore had that HIV doesn't cause AIDS. While the moderator form ACT UP San Francisco sought to shut him down, Ms. Maggiore pleaded for civility and got it. She pointed out that what we all have in common is the desire to get rid of AIDS, and that we need to proceed from there. When she went on to another questioner, the original questioner left the auditorium. Another questioner, who identified himself as a believer that HIV causes AIDS, asked how we could place faith in a medical establishment which earlier this year said that AIDS was at an endemic level and then just recently said we were at sub-Saharan levels of AIDS? That was almost too easy a question for someone like Maggiore, since, as she pointed out, she was not the one who subscribed to the medical establishment's theories about the cause of AIDS.

Another questioner noted that several of his friends seemed to be helped by protease inhibitors. Maggiore's response was that protease inhibitors have been found to be helpful in the short run in some cases because they have an anti-fungal and anti-microbial effect which can temporarily help the body restore itself, although she would not recommend their use because of the severe side effects.

One of the final questions to Maggiore was whether she had any problem appearing at an event sponsored by ACT UP San Francisco. She said that she has appeared with all kinds of groups and then went on to say that although the way that ACT UP San Francisco does things is not her style, she is not a gay man and therefore has not had to experience the decimation of an entire community.

Christine Maggiore can be reached toll free: (877) 92-ALIVE or