Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Deadly Experiment

by Martín Bonfil Olivera
Published on
Milenio Diario, February 4, 2009

Nothing is more terrible than a useless death. On December 27 the media announced the death of Christine Maggiore, an important American activist in favor of an idea as absurd as dangerous: that AIDS is not caused by a virus and is not contagious.

The so called AIDS denialists base their beliefs in the conjectures of various supposed experts, particularly Peter Duesberg, a molecular biologist that sacrificed his important reputation when he convinced himself, against all evidence and the opinion of almost all AIDS experts in the world, that the cause of AIDS is not HIV, but malnutrition and drug abuse.

Maggiore discovered she was seropositive in 1992: in 1994, when she learned about Duesberg's ideas, she turned into an active promoter of denialism. She founded the Alive & Well organization, dedicated to "present information that raises questions about the accuracy of HIV tests, the safety and effectiveness of AIDS drug treatments, and the validity of most common assumptions about HIV and AIDS".

Perhaps behind the fanatic conviction many denialists show is the natural human tendency to deny anything unpleasant, combined with the hope that what many consider —wrongly with today's treatments— a death sentence is wrong.

Maggiore took her fanatism to the extreme, when pregnant, of ignoring recommendations to use antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmission of the virus to her future daughter, Eliza. She then refused to practice HIV tests on her. In 2005, three-year old, Eliza died from a pneumonia caused by Pneumocystis jirovecii (known before are P. carinii), a fungus that typically causes pneumonia in AIDS patients.

Maggiore continued to deny AIDS and managed to avoid the legal complications of her criminal negligence. Her death in December was due, too, to P. jiroveci pneumonia . Her denialists friends, however, insist that "her legacy will continue to go on".

Ironically, Maggiore may have done a service to science: through the two unfortunate experiments she performed, at a deadly cost, dhe confirmed that the reality of AIDS does not depend on our beliefs. Despite their obstinate blindness, denialists will not be able to keep using Maggiore's life as proof to disqualify the scientific knowledge about AIDS .

(translated by Adrián Robles Benavides)

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