Misinformation on HIV and its consequences 2 March 2004
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Peter J Flegg,
Consultant Physician
Blackpool, UK, FY3 8NR

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Re: Misinformation on HIV and its consequences

I have been asked by the Perth Group to provide evidence that dissident misinformation has led to my patients becoming infected with HIV. Patient confidentiality precludes my giving details, but I can say that it has occurred, in each instance because the infected partner had chosen to ignore the significance of their HIV status, believing that HIV was not transmissible sexually. Sadly, there have been frequent examples, often in the press, concerning instances of people in denial who had then infected partners or their babies. The internet abounds with dissident discussion groups promoting theories that HIV is non-existent or non- infectious, and even more alarmingly many mainstream discussion groups for patients seeking help about HIV are spammed by rogue dissidents pumping out irresponsible claims about HIV/AIDS to try and mislead the unwary or persuade them to stop treatments. It would be naïve to think that these attempts are always unsuccessful.

Similarly, Mark Bartlett says he has never read or heard any dissident suggest that high-risk behaviours (unprotected sex with mutiple sex partners, anal sex, IV drug use with shared needles etc.) were fine. Well that depends on what one understands by high risk. Dissidents have suggested that unprotected sex with an HIV-infected partner is fine, or that not taking HIV therapy when one is ill is fine, or refusing HIV therapy in late pregnancy and insisting on breast feeding one’s baby are fine. These are examples of what I would call “high risk” behaviour, and promotion of it is highly irresponsible, if not criminal.

A trawl through alternative literature like “Continuum magazine” (now thankfully defunct) or Christine Maggiore’s book (“What if everything you thought you knew about AIDS was wrong?”), or the nether regions of the internet will reveal the harsh realities – that there are individuals who not only practice these “high risk” behaviours, but who actively encourage others to do likewise.

It is true that some dissidents like the Perth Group have sufficient nous to never be seen to directly encourage such behaviour, but there are wider implications to their stance on HIV/AIDS and its treatment. If we turn back to the original subject of this debate, namely South Africa, it is worth remembering that Thabo Mbeki’s disastrous ideas about AIDS derived in part from information gleaned from an HIV dissident internet site (Virusmyth). He and his government have subsequently adopted a stance that has heavily relied on dissident support for its actions, both through direct consultation and through their input into the Presidential “AIDS Panel”. One particularly tawdry episode concerns the denial by the SA Government of nevirapine to its own citizens to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. A significant role has been played by the Perth Group in convincing Mbeki of the “correctness” of this decision through the promotion of the wretched Perth Group document on Nevirapine (1). It has been estimated that as a result of the Government’s inaction, over 40 000 infants have been infected annually in South Africa over the last few years.

On their own web site (2), The Perth Group claim there is no proof for the statement that “HIV/AIDS is infectious, either by blood, blood products or sexual intercourse”. They also claims "AIDS will not spread outside the original risk groups.” In fact all of their claims are specious, and have been refuted to orthodox science’s clear satisfaction. The continued promotion of their view that HIV/AIDS is not proven to be infectious, and cannot spread outside the “original” risk groups poses a great danger to those who, possibly in denial and uncertain and confused about their own diagnosis, might be readily seduced by the message that their own infection does not even exist or is not transmissible.

(1). Papadopulos-Eleopulos E, Turner VF, Papadimitriou JM, et al. Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and its Prevention with ATZ and Nevirapine. pp 204. Perth: The Perth Group, 2001.

(2)http://www.theperthgroup.com/

Competing interests: None declared