By Dominic Odipo

The Standard Limited (Kenya) 26 Jan. '01

What causes the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)? This may sound like a stupid question but, according to an emerging or "dissident" new school of thought, it is not.

This dissident view holds that we actually do not know what causes AIDS. We do not know whether the condition known as AIDS is caused by a virus or some other agent. There is no proof that the "virus" known as HIV causes AIDS.

According to this seemingly unorthodox view which is being championed by South African President, Thabo Mbeki, those who are telling us that HIV causes AIDS as we have come to know it in Africa, are either deliberately misleading us or, if acting in good faith, they are basing their conclusions on half-baked scientific information.

The implications of this so-called dissident view are enormous. If HIV does not cause the condition known as AIDS, then the millions of shillings being spent everyday around the world to fight HIV are being thrown down the drain. The AIDS "industry" which has grown into a billion dollar business is founded upon a fundamental error, an illusion.

The giant western pharmaceutical companies which are minting millions of dollars making and selling drugs supposed to fight HIV are fleecing the victims of AIDS who are getting nothing in return for their money. Understandably, the traditional AIDS establishment is up in arms. It is already spending millions of shillings everyday to fight this dissident view and to rubbish President Mbeki who is now being depicted as Nero, the half-mad Roman Emperor, who merrily fiddled away while Rome was burning. But

Mbeki is not deterred by the criticism. His struggle continues. He has assembled a distinguished group of 33 AIDS experts, representing both the dissident and the orthodox views, to debate this question honestly and professionally.

The crux of the dissident view is that there is no proof that HIV causes AIDS. There could be a virus known as HIV but the syndrome or the condition we know as AIDS which leads to the inability of the body to fight off all sorts of diseases, could be the result of something else which we do not yet know. The direct link between HIV and AIDS as we know it in Africa, is, at best, doubtful.

The proponents of the traditional view maintain that practically every development of AIDS has been linked to a virus called HIV being present in the blood of the infected person. They admit that they do not know how the HIV virus originated but they claim to have no doubt about the fact that HIV causes AIDS.

But the whole debate has been complicated by another seemingly simple question, what exactly is HIV? In an interview carried in a recent issue of New African magazine, a German doctor Henrich Kremer and Swiss professor Alfred Hassing were quoted as saying. "HIV, which is held to be responsible for causing 30-different AIDS defining diseases, has never been shown to be transmissible nor self-reproducing, it has never been isolated, photographed or otherwise properly characterised as required by the established rules of virology."

According to Professor Sam Mhlongo, a South African AIDS expert who is serving on Mbeki's panel, the orthodox scientists need to produce a purified photograph of the HIV virus to demonstrate that it actually exists. Professor Mhlongo adds that all the orthodox scientists have shown regarding the HIV "virus" are particles "and they are saying that the particles are enough. As far as my information 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."

Mhlongo says that there are about 30 diseases in Africa which can lead to AIDS. Some like hypoprotinaemia are directly related to poverty. The AIDS establishment needs to acknowledge these facts but it is reluctant to do so because "poverty does not make money while HIV does."

So, there we are. Not only are we not sure about what exactly causes AIDS, we are not even sure that it is a virus. The so-called HIV "virus" has never been photographed as required by the laws of virology and so we do not know whether it is a virus or not.

It is from this premise that President Mbeki's high-powered initiative begins. The President's view point is that, serious as the AIDS scourge might be, we cannot realistically tackle a problem we do not know. How can we possibly talk about treatment if we do not even know what the disease is?

Let us sit down and debate this whole thing first before we decide how to proceed.

From the other side, the HIV-AIDS establishment and the big drug companies are arguing that with more than 20,000 people dying of AIDS in Africa everyday, the house is already on fire and we need to throw everything at it before it burns to the ground. Sitting down to argue or debate at this time is ridiculous, a luxury we cannot afford.

To President Mbeki, everything seems quite clear. The drugs being developed in the West might work there but be useless against those particular strains of AIDS found in Africa. Why should we spend so much money on drugs that merely work on HIV when we are not even sure that it is HIV which causes AIDS? If it is later proved that HIV is benign and does not actually cause AIDS, then Africa will have spent millions of dollars merely enriching Western drug companies.

To a detached mind, especially an African one, President Mbeki's argument sounds so logical that it is hard to understand why it has not gained more currency in the continent. Even here is Kenya, the local AIDS establishment seems to be throwing cold water on Mbeki's initiative. There seems to be a strange conspiracy of silence even though some of the scientific facts being thrown up by the Mbeki initiative cannot possibly be disputed. Intelligent men often make mistakes on a very grand scale. The human race has known many such grand mistakes before when Christopher Columbus landed on one of the islands of the Caribbean, he thought he was on the eastern coast of India. It was not until the 15th Century AD that the human race discovered that the planet which we inhabit is spherical, not flat.

And so it could turn out that the view that HIV causes AIDS is totally wrong. It may turn out that AIDS is caused by a completely different agent, one that is not even a virus. Since President Mbeki's expert advisors are raising so much plausible doubt, shouldn't we, at the very least, sit down and reason together?