AIDS HIV - Controversy Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

AIDS HIV - Controversy

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General Information | The Disease, Transmission, Treatment and Tests
Visible Features | Global Epidemiologic Statistics | Controversy
A red AIDS ribbon.

Just after the dust raised in the first years of the AIDS pandemic settled, scientists started to raise some serious questions relating to the disease and the virus which remained unanswered for a long time. For example, it remained obscure whether AIDS was caused by HIV alone, or if the HIV needed another co-factor to trigger AIDS. A handful of scientists even went further and questioned the whole AIDS-HIV connection. In 1987 an article published in Cancer Research by Prof Duesberg (Berkeley) caught the attention of the mainstream press.

In this article Duesberg proposed that HIV was just another opportunistic infect connected to AIDS, but that AIDS itself was a result of specific lifestyle choices. His attacks on the 'AIDS establishment', nourished conspiracy theories, in which a government-backed money-laundering pharmaceutical industry would do anything to keep the myth of AIDS and HIV in order to make their megabucks with their expensive drugs1. In the same way, his theory that AIDS would be caused by specific lifestyles found sympathy in wide parts of society, especially with those who believe that AIDS is a heaven-sent plague to punish gay people. Duesberg's proposals were immediately rejected in the scientific community, however this did not get as much public resonance.

At the time the controversy was at its peak, there were still some questions unanswered about the exact mechanisms of the HIV infection and the development of AIDS. Today there is a rather complete understanding of how HIV causes AIDS. In spite of scientific evidence, however, the controversy about the link between HIV and AIDS still resurfaces periodically, as for instance in South Africa2, resulting in media attention and generating renewed public interest in the controversial perspective.

People subscribe to myths or conspiracy theories about the disease for many reasons. For instance, myths that deny the existence of AIDS can respond to one's emotional needs, that AIDS can be avoided by changing behaviour. Another reason: the idea of re-examining AIDS and its causes may provide hope, that if an alternative cause for AIDS is identified, a cure might more readily be found.

Readers interested in the controversial perspective might want to check out the homepage.

Please Note: h2g2 is not a definitive medical resource. If you have any health concerns you must always seek advice from your local GP. You can also visit NHS Direct or BBC Health Conditions.

1While we're at it, the conspiracy theories go even further: HIV is a secret bio-weapon developed by the CIA shortly after the Roswell Incident, and so on...2In the late 1990s the South African government announced that it would 'convene an international panel to re-examine the scientific evidence surrounding AIDS, including evidence regarding the cause and diagnosis of the disease.'

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