The neglected holocaust
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 16: Unintended Consequences
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Peter Todd
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Peter B Todd's biography and other articles by this writer
Australia's position on the neglected holocaust of AIDS, even in the immediate region, is overwhelmed by relentlessly beating the tribal drum about the spectre of global terrorism. This continues to eclipse the challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic from the collective consciousness. It also minimises the inconvenience to the government of recognising that to lead a substantive response to the challenge would require an overdue leap in funding research and treatment. The harsh reality, according to estimates from UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, is that it will not be numerous decades before AIDS-related mortality will reach a hundred million people.
From its rather apocalyptic beginnings twenty-five years ago, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has generated its prophets and dissenters, heroes and heretics. At the beginning, the prophets were those who predicted a holocaust, as the mysterious disease baptised Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome in January 1983 spread from homosexual men to haemophiliacs, blood transfusion recipients, women and children. The heroes were the scientists and courageous activists who called attention to the impending holocaust and provided funding for research to identify and genetically fingerprint the serial killer. The Reagan administration and a compliant US Congress became the first holocaust deniers by remaining silent about the predictions and mortality rates.
Yet the evidence is as compelling, perhaps, as that presented to the Nuremberg trials. According to World Health Organisation and UNAIDS sources, by 2010 it is estimated that deaths from the pandemic will rival those of the bubonic plague, which killed ninety-three million people during the mediaeval and Enlightenment periods. Already in 2005, more than forty million people were estimated to be living with HIV and twenty-five million had died. In that year alone, an estimated five million were newly infected. Of the three million who died, more than half a million were children. This is covert genocide through neglect. Ninety-six per cent of people with HIV live in the developing world, including Australia's nearest neighbours, where an estimated eight million people are infected. Meanwhile, the prospects for an effective vaccine seem to be bleak and the anti-retroviral drug treatments are not keeping pace with the mutation rate of the retrovirus. This is an apocalyptic reality here and now.
In 2005, almost five million people became infected with HIV and were thereby herded onto figurative AIDS trains with well known destinations. Before considering the paradigm challenging science that may be needed to stop this holocaust, this essay unmasks some of the many faces of collusion that have become accessories to this serial killing. These include geopolitical and ideological forces which are expressed through globally significant personalities, institutions and governments. Resistance to addressing difficulties with the Jenner/Pasteur model of infectious disease and the need for a scientific revolution in the understanding of HIV are themes central to this essay.
SILENCE AS AN ACCESSORY TO HIV BEGAN DURING the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the United States. There was no official mention of AIDS by the US President until the Third International AIDS Conference in Washington DC in 1987. Having personally acknowledged the epidemic after the death from AIDS of his actor friend Rock Hudson, Reagan continued to obstruct research funding. From 1981 until 1990, 100,777 deaths from AIDS were reported to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. Randy Shilts unmasked the Reagan Administration's silence and fiscal neglect in his 1988 book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (Penguin).
This silence, and official reluctance to fund research into the forensic hunt for the micro-organism causing AIDS, resulted in the deaths of thousands of people whose right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, guaranteed in the US Constitution, was denied. Reagan placed defence against the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union above all other priorities, including health. Meanwhile, media silence in deference to government policy effectively colluded with HIV, despite the candlelight processions in protest and commemoration of those who died on the altar of political expediency.
In 2007, the eloquent silence which masks the AIDS holocaust mostly pertains to those dying in the developing world. While the media since 9/11 has provided pulpits for the prophets of anti-terrorism, the silence about the AIDS holocaust remains deafening – perhaps, to use Al Gore's phrase, it is another "inconvenient truth". Could the quietly lurking forces of xenophobia, racism and militant nationalism form an alliance with silence to become complicit in the AIDS holocaust? It would not be the first time that the West – including Australia – has been a bystander to genocide. In 2006, according to UNAIDS estimates, only US$8.9 billion of the US$14.9 billion dollars required to reverse and stop the pandemic were available. In 2007, resource requirements are estimated to be US$18.1 billion, while only US$10 billion is expected to be available. The collusion between political and economic policies was clear in Reagan's announcement that the only increases in federal spending would be on defence. By the end of his second term in office, he had spent more than two trillion dollars on defence, filling the coffers of the so-called "military-industrial complex". Due to the silence and fiscal neglect of the Reagan and subsequent administrations, more than one million people in America had been infected with HIV by the year 2005. To the extent that successive governments in Australia have colluded with such policies, they must accept a share of the responsibility for the toll, especially, perhaps, in South-East Asia.
SINCE 9/11, THE SPECTRE OF GLOBAL TERRORISM has largely eclipsed AIDS, and continues to consume many billions of dollars annually. The possibility that HIV itself is a symbolic terrorist menacing humanity seems still to be beneath the radar of humanity's collective consciousness. As is the likelihood that HIV, as it continues to mutate and becomes more virulent, is a serious threat to economic and national security, especially in the developing world.
Scientific complicity in the AIDS holocaust has several unsuspected guises. One is the contamination of scientific inquiry by extra scientific influences, including those of a commercial, political and religious nature. A recent, highly contentious debate epitomises some of the intrigue and subversion affecting the science of HIV/AIDS.
Two groups became the proponents and opponents of the Durban Declaration published in the journal Nature in July 2000. This paper was a response to an argument originally published by virologist Professor Peter Duesberg in Science twelve years earlier, provocatively titled "HIV is Not the Cause of AIDS". In a manner reminiscent of the way Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation in Europe in 1517, Duesberg nailed his alternative hypotheses to the door of the AIDS establishment. He proposed that recreational and anti-HIV drugs and malnutrition caused AIDS. He accused scientific orthodoxy of suppressing research into alternative non-HIV hypotheses of causation.
By the time of the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban in July 2000, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, a sceptic about orthodox AIDS theory and treatment, had convened a panel including many of the more prominent dissidents to fuel the controversy with mass media coverage. The flames ignited by the revolt of Duesberg and others could now be seen by the people in the global village, including those caught up in the pandemic. In an attempt to put down the revolt, 5,228 eminent medical and scientific signatories (including a number of Nobel Laureates) to the Durban Declaration affirmed that, on the basis of "exhaustive and unambiguous evidence", HIV was the cause of AIDS.