Reprinted from an interview by Derrick Jensen for The Sun*, April 25, 2004
Deconstructing AIDS
An Interview with Christine Maggiore
By Derrick Jensen
 
“The point of questioning is to inspire thinking, to inspire caring people to look at AIDS with the same scrutiny, skepticism, and open-mindedness they apply to other issues of importance and to understand that we are asking these questions because we want answers that benefit everyone.”
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Derrick Jensen: Does HIV cause AIDS?
Christine Maggiore: What I’ve found—through both my personal experience and my research into the vast collection of medical, scientific, and epidemiological data available about AIDS—is that there is no compelling reason to assume it does.
 
For a lot of people, asking this question is tantamount to heresy. AIDS is an issue that touches all of us, and not just in an abstract or informational way. For some people it’s a closer issue than for others. For most of us, it shapes our view of the world, and for many, it defines the time we live in.
 
Because of our collective emotional investment in AIDS, I think it’s important to speak about my personal connection to the issue. I’m not a scientist or a doctor, and I only became a researcher by accident. For many years, and like most people, there was no way for me to think about AIDS except in terms of what we’re all told by the media, our government, and AIDS organizations. The way I came to question these common perceptions, what inspired me to look at the issue in a more profound way, was testing HIV positive during a routine medical exam. I had no reason or desire to take the test; I wasn’t in any “risk group” and had no particular health concerns. My doctor insisted everyone should do it as a matter of social responsibility, sort of like recycling or voting. Neither of us ever imagined the devastating results—I was and still am the only patient in her practice who ever tested positive.
 
When an AIDS specialist told me I would die within five to seven years, I felt a very deep need to use my limited time to protect other people from ending up in my tragic circumstances. This led me to become a public speaker and educator giving talks founded on the basic tenets: HIV causes AIDS; HIV tests are accurate; AIDS drugs are the only effective and legitimate response to a positive diagnosis; we prevent AIDS through safe sex, clean needles, and blood screening.
 
At the same time, I began searching for a doctor I could die with. I wanted somebody who would know my name without looking at my chart, who would listen as well as speak to me, somebody with whom I felt some connection. A year or so into my doctor search and public service, I met with an MD who recommended I retest. She said I didn’t fit the profile of an AIDS patient. That’s when the rules of the new world I had entered started to change.
 
It took me several months to find the courage to follow her recommendation. I couldn’t imagine what good could come of it: If I tested negative, how could I resume my life given my attachment to the HIV positive people I worked with and to the issue itself? How could I celebrate being saved knowing what awaited those I left behind? It would be like escaping a burning building and not being able to help anyone else get out. And the thought of testing positive again was even worse: after getting my hopes up, I would have to go through the despair, shame, and hopelessness all over again while feeling foolish for having dared to believe I might be spared. When I finally did retest, the result came back indeterminate. I tested again and it was positive, then it switched to negative, and then I got another positive. This series of conflicting test results didn’t fit any of the rules I’d been taught and left me confused and emotionally drained. It also caused me to look into what a group of friends had been urging me to consider, some information suggesting HIV was not the cause of AIDS, an idea, which until then, seemed completely implausible. I thought: I’m a public speaker and educator for very prominent AIDS organizations; if there were reasonable, responsible questions about HIV, certainly I would have been told. But once I started to investigate this other viewpoint, serious skepticism set in. I went to the AIDS organizations where I volunteered and asked them if they might consider revisiting some of the issues we were characterizing as very certain. That led to something I hadn’t expected: closed doors, closed minds, conversations abruptly ending. After all the support I’d given to the issue and to the organizations, I found that there was no support coming back to me in my search for understanding. They told me not to ask these questions or talk about the information I’d discovered. They described the scientists who presented it as misguided fools, or malicious jerks who were misleading the public. 
 
This got me thinking that we should give representatives of the varying view points on AIDS a public forum where people like me with concerns about what was correct could hear the issues raised and the ideas challenged and tested. Nothing but good, I thought, could come from a meeting of diverse minds because this sort of exchange creates greater understanding. Difficult questions lead to meaningful answers; gaps in knowledge get filled in. But I found that the organizations and the people within them would not support open dialog and discussion about AIDS. I went from being on every panel and presentation to being shunned; one organization asked me to resign from their board.
 
This was very hurtful and difficult to understand. I always thought that in a search for answers, you let the truth land where it will without a vested interest in one or another outcome.
 
DJ:  Was it hard for you to find the information?
 
CM: Yeah, I found it in little bits and pieces, which was like putting together a puzzle or following a trail of bread crumbs. This inspired me to take on task of bringing together all the bits of information in order to make it easier for other people trying to understand the issues.
 
DJ:  What did your original diagnosis of being HIV positive do to you?
 
CM:  It derailed my life at a point where I thought I was moving toward a really great future. I owned a very successful business, I’d just bought a house, I had a nice group of friends, and was going to school at night to finish my business degree. I’d just gone through a course to become a Big Sister because I felt like I finally had something to share, not just in a material sense but also in terms of experience, and I wanted to give some of what I’d accumulated back to somebody.  In the midst of all this, the test came as a hard slap in the face.
 
One of the first things AIDS doctors told me was that I could never have children. This made having a little person in my life to share, learn, and grow with even more important, so I called Big Sisters and without giving my name, told them what had happened. They said I could no longer participate, that you can’t develop a relationship if you’re terminally ill, and that it wasn’t fair to the girl since an initial commitment is one year. The doctors were giving me five to seven years, and Big Sisters of America wasn’t even giving me twelve months. 
 
I immediately felt like an outcast, a social leper. I didn’t know anyone who had AIDS. I was the first person I ever met who had tested HIV positive. I also felt obligated to tell everyone I knew which is just the worst, because after you go through this awkward confession, you end up dealing with how they feel about having their world upset by you making their fears of AIDS real. They end up simultaneously feeling sorry for you and sorry for themselves.
 
Then I began to wonder about the point of completing a degree. Since there’s no section in Forest Lawn for people with MBA’s, I dropped out of the program.
 
The biggest thing though was the shame. HIV positive is the one medical diagnosis that’s considered your fault unless you can somehow claim innocence through being a hemophiliac or legally married to one, or having a transfusion. Otherwise, you got it because you did something stupid, wrong, and probably even dirty. When I spoke in public, someone would always ask if I’d shot drugs, been a prostitute, or done something else deemed equally socially unacceptable. Nobody asks those sorts of questions if you’ve got cancer or MS.
                 
DJ:  Let’s talk more about your skepticism.
 
CM: My skepticism came out of concern and compelled me to dig deeper, go beyond unquestioning acceptance. When I looked closer and applied some critical thinking, I found the primary assumptions about AIDS just don’t add up. There’s a great deal of information portrayed as true and certain that is far from absolute or clearly established, disturbing omissions of inconvenient facts, lots of poorly conceived and constructed studies, biased research, and some fairly overt manipulation of statistics. And noticing this doesn’t require great intellect, specific knowledge or expertise, it’s the common sense stuff that doesn’t make sense.
 
DJ:  Such as?
 
CM:  Well, in my book I take the ten top assumptions we’ve all accepted as true about HIV and AIDS, and dismantle them. The first of these is the question: is AIDS a new disease? Few people stop to consider that AIDS isn’t a disease at all.  It’s a collection of previously known illnesses and conditions that all have well-established causes and known treatments that have nothing to do with HIV. All AIDS defining illnesses as they’re officially called, are and have always been caused by things other than HIV—bacteria, other viruses, fungi, cell depletion, cell proliferation and so forth. Unlike an actual illness, the conditions classified as AIDS have been expanded several times in this country, and they vary from country to country around the world. What’s considered AIDS in the US is not the same as in Canada or Africa and actually varies between nations that share common borders. Having accepted and perpetuated the idea that AIDS was a distinct condition, a new disease, this was a surprising discovery. We tend to think of AIDS as an “it”—we’re called upon to prevent it, fight it, research it, cure it—but AIDS is 29 or so conditions with causes totally unrelated to HIV and even includes one non-illness
 
Having said this, I want to be clear that I’m not trying to say there’s nothing new about the way the some actual diseases put under the AIDS umbrella have affected people, especially in the early part of the epidemic. The whole AIDS concern began when groups of young, upwardly-mobile gay men in major metropolitan areas began coming down with illnesses typically seen only in the elderly, in people who had undergone chemotherapy treatments, organ transplants or other immune suppressive medical procedures, who had experienced extreme andchronic physical stress, or who had been deprived of normal, necessary living circumstances such as proper nutrition, rest, and so on. And this concern was totally justified. However, locking into a mass consensus with little substantiating scientific evidence that a new, sexually transmitted microbe was the cause, and declaring this as absolute without proper exploration of very apparent health risk factors noted among victims is where I believe we went wrong.
 
DJ: So old diseases were now affecting new hosts…
CM: Yes, and in addition, fairly common diseases like cervical cancer and yeast infections are also under the AIDS umbrella. For example, many health experts suggest that around one quarter of all Americans have problems with chronic yeast. Having chronic yeast infection doesn’t mean you have AIDS, except under one specific circumstance—if you’ve tested HIV positive. Here is the basic formula for AIDS: if you have pneumonia and you’ve tested HIV negative, you have pneumonia but if you have pneumonia and you’ve tested positive, you have AIDS. Same with cervical cancer, tuberculosis, samonella, and the other  twenty something AIDS illnesses. AIDS is a new category, but none of the illnesses in it are new, none appear exclusively in people who’ve tested HIV positive, and all of them have well known causes and treatments unrelated to HIV. Prior to the US Centers for Disease Control’s adoption of the AIDS category, these twenty-nine diseases were not thought to have a single cause and were treated individually and without the notion they were manifestations of an underlying fatal infection. Another thing is that the diseases called AIDS don’t happen to everyone who tests positive. They may not occur at all and occur with greater frequency and even with exclusively in certain AIDS risk groups. Babies, and children diagnosed with AIDS for example, never get Kaposi’s Sarcoma which is the hallmark AIDS disease among gay men. KS is also extremely rare among women, hemophiliacs and injection drug users who test positive, while significant numbers of gay men who test HIV negative get KS. Why would this be so if HIV were the universal, unique cause of KS/AIDS? This kind of information led me to question whether grouping certain illnesses together creates any greater medical understanding, and if treatment based on the idea of a singular viral cause is the best way to resolve them. We all know that yeast infections are caused by imbalances of bacteria in every person who has one while TB and samonella are caused by other distinct microbes. Does the assumption that disparate, disconnected conditions caused by other things are now caused by one thing—but only in certain people—truly help those who are sick? 
 
DJ:  I thought the whole point of AIDS, though, is in its name: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. So of course if your immune system is deficient, you’re going to get other opportunistic diseases.
 
CM: The case for that would be stronger if the opportunistic diseases categorized as AIDS were unique to people with compromised immune systems, and stronger still if HIV were shown clearly to have the capacity to damage immune cells, either directly or indirectly. But those cases haven’t been convincingly made. Instead, the AIDS umbrella has driven the medical establishment to put the diagnosis before the person, that is, to treat the idea of HIV rather than the person manifesting the disease. By assuming HIV is the single and unique cause and treating HIV with toxic, immune compromising pharmaceuticals, I think we’ve seriously limited our options and end up risking great harm to achieve some highly questionable good. Except for the sort of independent research my organization conducts, the medical research community is not investigating practical, inexpensive and healthy avenues of treatment presently available to help people. 
 
Put simply, after more than 20 years and $90 billion in tax payer funding, AIDS experts still don’t know how or why HIV causes AIDS. HIV is a retrovirus, a type of virus subjected to decades of intense study during a time when government-funded research scientists agreed that cancers had a contagious, viral, cause. This scrutiny of retroviruses produced the generally accepted knowledge that retroviruses don’t kill cells  which is why retroviruses were initially targeted for research—cancer is a problem involving rapid cell growth. But AIDS is a problem involving cell depletion. And even if HIV did kill cells, according to orthodox medical data, it only infects an average of one in a thousand T cells—the cells that are thought to play a vital role in the body’s immune system—not nearly enough to cause the reduction in T cells that is supposed to be a defining feature of AIDS.
 
Back in the late 1980s, Dr. Kary Mullis, who ironically, won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his invention of the technique currently used to search for fragments of HIV’s genetic material in AIDS patients, was writing a paper on AIDS for the lab where he worked. In order to present a properly referenced paper, he needed a citation for the statement “HIV is the probable cause of AIDS” and asked a fellow technician for the specific reference. The tech replied, “We don’t have to cite that. It’s common knowledge.” Well, the fact is, as Kary Mullis soon discovered, and continues to note, is that you can’t cite a reference for “HIV causes AIDS,” because it’s never been demonstrated.
 
DJ:  How, then, did people come to think HIV causes AIDS?
 
CM: We can trace the belief that HIV causes AIDS back to April 23, 1984, when government scientist Dr. Robert Gallo announced he had discovered “the probable cause of AIDS,” a new retrovirus later dubbed HIV. Gallo’s statement was made at an international press conference, circumventing fundamental rules of the scientific process. He presented no evidence for his proposal that HIV causes AIDS. His research findings had not yet been published in any scientific or medical journal where they would be subject to the normal process of peer review prior to being announced to the public. Later that same day, Gallo filed a patent for what’s now known as the “AIDS test,” and by the next day The New York Times had turned Gallo’s tentative discovery into a certainty by calling it “the virus that causes AIDS.” Funding for alternative causes of AIDS came to an abrupt halt and the idea that HIV was to blame was fast tracked into every aspect of life—from medical journals to popular culture—with almost none of the very necessary scientific scrutiny or journalistic skepticism we count on.
 
Activists, now armed with an “it” to blame—and one that, in a certain almost convenient sense, exonerated the predominately gay male AIDS victims—began demanding immediate, massive budget allocations for research and treatment drugs. America’s corp of research scientists—comprised mostly of virologists weary of the relatively fruitless war on cancer—enthusiastically switched battles and began applying for AIDS funding. Dire predictions of worldwide devastation fueled drug company interests. The US Centers for Disease Control—an institution established to identify and combat contagious illness which had been targeted for significant budget cuts since 99% of Americans die from non-contagious conditions such as cancer and heart disease—was suddenly given new life, and began aggressively promoting AIDS as a widespread health threat despite solid evidence to the contrary. Compassionate individuals and benevolent organizations stepped forward; diverse groups united in a new, common cause. Our national focus was on simultaneously promoting and dispelling AIDS fears; our questions were framed around caring—how much and when will you start?—while legitimate questions about the object of all our concern and efforts went unheard.
 
But back to the initial announcement. There were many problems with Gallo’s assertion, not the least of which was the fact that Gallo hadn’t even found the virus he claimed to have discovered. His whole hypothesis and patent application used an unpurified cell culture taken from a sample sent to him by a French virologist, Luc Montagnier, who had been examining what appeared to be retroviral particles in the lymph nodes of a homosexual man with swollen glands. What’s more, when Gallo’s substantiating evidence finally was published, this noted positive antibody responses in only 88 percent of the AIDS patients he studied, and what he characterized as the actual virus in less than 40%. Normally, you need to find the suspected disease-causing microbe in 100 percent of patients. Gallo went forward with only 36 percent and the US government and the majority of the world went right along with him.
 
This leads to another problem, which is the assumption that HIV tests clearly and distinctly show the presence of HIV in people who test positive. But the tests don’t actually test for HIV.  I was told—and my case is exemplary of many people’s experience—I had an HIV infection, based on a test that can’t even determine HIV specific antibody response. Since no current HIV test detects HIV or identifies antibodies or other markers that are unique or specific to HIV, and no tests, past or present, have been calibrated for accuracy by the direct finding of HIV in the uncultured blood of people who test positive, it’s a huge leap of faith to assume that someone who tests positive is infected with HIV.
 
DJ: What do they actually test for?
CM:  The things called HIV antibody tests measure a person’s antibody response to a set of proteins thought to describe or specifically pertain to components of HIV. But if you look at how the tests were created, and how it was decided that these proteins pertain to HIV, you’d see that none of the proteins used in the test are unique or specific to the virus. So a positive reaction to these proteins doesn’t mean you’re reacting to specific, unique components of HIV or anything that would reasonably indicate you’ve been exposed to HIV or that HIV is there.
 
DJ:  What else could it be?
 
CM:  There are about sixty different conditions that produce antibodies that respond to some or all of the proteins used on HIV test kits. This means if you have or have had one or more of these conditions, your test can be interpreted as positive for HIV. Some of these conditions include certain immunizations; having had or been exposed to tuberculosis; other retroviruses; recent viral infections such as colds and flu or recent viral vaccines; antibodies produced in response to receptive anal sex, lupus, Epstein Barr, or alcoholic hepatitis; “sticky blood” (a condition found among certain ethnic groups) or highly oxidated blood; rheumatoid arthritis, blood transfusions, and being or having been pregnant. Any of these can cause the test to return positive results. Add to that the fact that test results are open to interpretation based on criteria that vary from lab to lab and on information about your health or lifestyle. One striking example of the implications of non-standardized interpretation is the case of a Canadian woman I mention in my book who was tested by the hospital delivering her baby. The results were indeterminate, but since medical records revealed she’d had a history of IV drug use, she was upgraded to positive. Based on the positive diagnosis, she gave up her newborn for adoption and had surgery to prevent future pregnancy. Years later, while participating in an AIDS drug study, she repeatedly tested negative. A 1994 study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases concluded that HIV tests are useless, for example, in central Africa, where microbes for tuberculosis, malaria, and leprosy are so prevalent that the tests register over 70 percent false positives.
 
Let’s think for a moment just about the fact that current or prior pregnancy can skew the test. If you’re pregnant and test HIV positive, most doctors will work very hard to convince you to take toxic, experimental drugs throughout your pregnancy, drugs that are known to cause fetal deformities, cancers, cellular damage, muscle wasting, diarrhea, anemia and liver disease; to agree to an intervenous infusion of AZT during labor, and if they’re into very aggressive anti-AIDS therapy, they will insist on a C section delivery. You will also be instructed not to breastfeed your baby and to put AZT in their formula several times a day for six weeks following birth, whether or not your child tests HIV positive. If you question any of these standards of care, or if you choose to decline these recommendations, you may be turned into your local department of health and child protective services.
 
DJ:  Are you telling me a person could reasonably have no HIV in her body, but because she’s pregnant test positive?
 
CM:  Yes.
 
DJ: Or the person could have recently gotten a tetanus vaccination?
 
CM: Or could suffer from alcoholic hepatitis. Or could have moved from a country where TB and malaria are endemic and just about everyone has the antibodies. Those antibodies in particular have a tendency to cross-react on these tests. 
 
I know many people who are not in any of the AIDS risk groups who test positive, and are told, despite the fact that they’re perfectly healthy, that they’ve been faithfully married to an HIV negative partner for more than a decade, and have one or more healthy, HIV negative testing children, that they have HIV. One such woman is Kathleen Tyson who was dragged through the media and into court two years ago for parental neglect after she tested positive in routine prenatal screening during her second pregnancy and made an informed decision to decline doctors orders. When Kathleen—an exceptionally healthy former dancer, a runner, and organic gardener—got positive results, she was encouraged to consider that her husband of ten years might be a secret bisexual or IV drug user. He subsequently tested negative, as did their 11 year old daughter who Kathleen had nursed for three years. Despite the conflict between the diagnosis and her circumstances, doctors convinced her that the test gave better information than her own life experiences, and even though she had no “viral load,” that she needed to take a potent combination of AIDS drugs while pregnant. There was just no discussion. And I think that’s the problem: because of the test’s inability to accurately tell whether someone is infected with HIV, we need to consider all the circumstances both surrounding this test and involved in the person’s life.
 
DJ:  Are you saying there’s no reasonably accurate test for the presence of HIV in a person?
 
CM:  From everything I’ve seen, no. Let’s define reasonable. I would expect, and I think most people would reasonably expect, that a test telling you whether or not you have a fatal infection would be able to find that microbe inside your body, or to have a test whose accuracy has been determined by an independent “gold standard,” which in the case of HIV would be direct detection of the disease-causing agent in the uncultured blood of people who test antibody or DNA positive. Doctors use tests all the time that can reasonably determine if you have a current, active infection without going through the expense and risk to lab workers of testing for the actual infectious agent, but these tests have their accuracy established by the finding of the infectious agent. That has never been done with HIV tests.
 
DJ:  I don’t understand.
 
CM: To create a reasonable test, you would take a group of say 1,000 people who test positive on your potential antibody test, and determine of these, how many have actual, infectious virus. If you find it in all 1,000, your test can reasonably be considered 100% specific and conversely, if you take 1,000 people who test negative and find no virus in all 1,000, your test’s sensitivity is gauged at 100%. If it were 999 people in each case, the test would be 99.9% accurate and so on. But this simple, basic and very necessary step has never been taken to verify the specificity and sensitivity of HIV tests. Instead, citations of test accuracy rely on what are described in their manufacturers’ literature as estimates and assumptions, or verification against tests originally verified by estimates and assumptions.
 
DJ:  This strikes me. . . .
 
CM: Yes, as absolutely irresponsible, especially since this is not a test for some minor medical condition that is just a point of conversation or inconvenience. If you’re going to give someone a fatal diagnosis and that person is going to use this information in making life-altering decisions, I think you better be sure you’ve got your facts right.
 
We have the means to know the accuracy of HIV tests. We don’t need to be assuming and estimating with people’s lives. We can find out if and when these tests work, and we haven’t.
 
DJ:  I’m sorry if I’m being dense. Are you saying that through all of this research they’ve never done simple standard tests using controls to verify accuracy?
 
CM: The obvious thing to do with regard to such a profound diagnosis would be to make sure the test is specific to the entity you claim the test identifies. The only way to do this is to find the disease-causing entity in numbers of people you believe have it, and use this information to determine the tests ability to accurately identify the infected.
 
DJ:  But there are other tests.  There’s a urine test, a saliva test, and so on.
 
CM: What I’m saying applies to all HIV antibody, antigen, saliva, urine, and blood tests. While the tests differ in their structure and methodology, they’ve all been verified against tests that use no markers that are unique or specific to HIV, and none have not been verified by direct isolation of the virus.
 
DJ:  What about viral load tests?
 
CM:  The approval of the newer AIDS drugs is based on the notion they lower HIV “viral burden” or “viral load” and this is determined through an amplification technique based on Kary Mullis’s Nobel prize winning technology polymerase chain reaction or PCR. Because HIV is so hard to find in AIDS patients—Gallo couldn’t find it which led him to appropriate Montagnier’s cell culture which Montagnier admits was not a purified isolate of HIV—the viral load tests don’t bother to look for actual HIV. Instead, they detect and amplify fragments of what’s supposed to be genetic information specific to HIV, and through a questionable mathematical formula, we arrive at a number that allegedly represents amounts of infectious virus. But again, with no purified isolate of HIV, we have no HIV-specific RNA or DNA that the tests can seek out.
 
Despite the assuring name “viral load,” what’s actually found and amplified is not infectious HIV, but scraps of genetic material attributed to HIV. And, as with the other tests, viral load has only been verified against itself or other HIV tests with no properly established accuracy. It’s not a test for the virus. Even the test literature states that it “is not intended to be used as a screening test for HIV or as a diagnostic to confirm the presence of HIV infection.”
 
DJ: Why do they use that?CM: Because the genetic fragments can be detected through PCR. But if you were to accept the idea that PCR is a reliable substitute for detecting actual HIV infection, if this is the only way to find HIV, what do we use to verify PCR’s accuracy? This violates common sense as well as fundamental principles of science. Yet every day “viral load” tests are used by doctors and researchers to detect and quantify HIV. It’s absurd. There are a number of cases in the published medical literature of people who test HIV negative but have HIV viral loads. The test is so unreliable that most labs won’t run it unless you’ve already tested HIV antibody positive. When the test finds genetic fragments in someone who’s HIV negative, it’s called a mistake, but when it finds fragments in people who are positive, it’s called viral load and the results are presumed to be accurate. 
 
A while back, I wanted to see about my own “viral load.” Up until January of 2001, the medical consensus was that a viral load of 10,000 or greater indicated an urgent need for medication with AIDS drugs. I took the test twice, a few weeks apart. The first result put my viral load at 359,000, almost 36 times above the level for immediate and aggressive drug treatment. The second test was 980, indicating a miraculous recovery even though I’ve never taken any AIDS treatments. At the time of both tests, I was perfectly well. I’ve seen all sorts of inexplicable ups and downs in people, results that don’t correspond to their state of health or T cell counts, and the same drawing of blood sent to different labs for testing come back with very different results.
 
T cell tests are just as sketchy. HIV positives are encouraged to live and die by these numbers, yet nobody has compared T cell counts in matched HIV-positive and -negative cohorts.  What are T cell counts in HIV-negative hemophiliacs? We don’t know. What are T cell counts in HIV-negative gay men with a history of drug use and concurrent STD infection? Nobody knows.  What are T cell counts in the general population over periods of time in varying circumstances? We don’t know. You don’t know your T cell count, my mother doesn’t know hers, but I’m supposed to know mine.
 
We do know that Epstein-Barr virus kills off fifty or sixty percent of a person’s population of T cells when the infection is active yet these people don’t suffer from AIDS and don’t develop any fatal illness because of T cell depletion. There’s no solid science behind the black and white pronunciations we hear so often: if your T cell count is this, you’re close to death or in need of medicine, but if it’s that, you’re healthy. Also, as one prominent mainstream AIDS researcher points out, less than 3% of our T cells are found in the peripheral blood where they can be measured by the tests.
 
Ironically, before I first tested positive, I spent fifteen years taking a very high and damaging dosage of prescription medication for a medical condition it turned out I never had. The medicine eventually caused me to become immune suppressed, and to experience all sorts of AIDS-defining symptoms like night sweats, monthly bouts with herpes cold sores, frequent illness, inability to gain weight, and constant low grade fever. By the time I tested positive, I was off the medication, but still rebuilding my health. I thought for sure when they tested my T cells, billed as the absolute indicator of my immune health, I’d have none left after all I’d been through. But the results were Olympian, a record-setting high.  The point is that I don’t think most people realize that these tests—HIV, viral load, T cells—have no real basis in proper medical or scientific research. That may not matter to you, or to my mother, or to anyone else who hasn’t tested HIV positive, but for those of us who have, it matters a lot.
 
DJ:  If the science is so bad, and if HIV hasn’t been shown to cause AIDS, what are all these people dying of? I knew a guy in the 1980s who died of AIDS. What did he die of?
 
CM:  That’s always the question.
 
DJ:  You’re not saying people aren’t dying, are you?
 
CM:  None of this discussion, nothing in my book or my organization says people haven’t died, that people aren’t suffering even as we speak, or that this suffering isn’t called AIDS.
 
That said, I cannot tell you why someone I don’t know died. No responsible doctor would ever declare a cause of death without a thorough review of a person’s medical records. I can, however, talk about people I’ve known, and I can talk about what I’ve read in medical literature. 
 
One of the first things I learned was to stop putting people who test positive in the HIV or AIDS dump pile, and stop assuming they’re all the same, because they’re not.  Why this person died might be completely different from why that person died even though both deaths are attributed to AIDS. There are twenty-nine conditions in the category of AIDS-defining illness, yet when somebody who’s HIV positive dies, it’s simply labeled as AIDS or an AIDS-related death.
 
What does that mean? What was the medical or cultural context for the original labeling of HIV or AIDS? In many parts of the world, HIV tests are not necessary to diagnose AIDS and when they are, it’s often the lowest standard of test. Even here, a surprising number of AIDS diagnoses are based on clinical symptoms alone or the patient’s risk group affiliation.
 
The first AIDS patients were a unique subgroup of gay men that did not define all gay men. These guys were living a particular lifestyle that put their health at risk, and I say this with no moral or ethical judgments. I’m simply attempting to describe relevant facts.  The early AIDS cases were young guys in their twenties who had already had an average of more than 1,000 sexual partners and had been getting and being treated with immune compromising drugs for a variety of sexually-transmitted diseases, parasites and ameobic infections. The first name for this newly emerging condition was Gay Bowel Syndrome since the parasites, aemobeas and antibiotics and activities like anal fisting affected digestion and bowel function. As more problems were noted among these men, the term Gay Related Immune Deficiency or GRID came into use.
 
If you talk to people who lived during this time—and I mean really lived—it was a time of unprecedented celebration of sexuality, of coming out and enjoying the freedom to express yourself as a gay man, and the celebration was most pronounced in the major urban areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and New York. People enjoying the most gregarious forms of this celebration, inadvertently and often times with the support of their doctors who were living the same way, exposed themselves to multiple health risks, which taken alone, might not cause serious problems, but when combined in near constant and unprecedented ways, became very serious. In addition to multiple, concurrent infections and treatments, many people in this subgroup of celebrants did a lot of drugs to keep them up and enjoying all that was going on, the type of drugs that suppress the appetite, push you beyond your physical limits and eliminate the need for normal rest. I’ve met with many of the survivors of these times who say they were on meth and or coke and other drugs from Friday at 5 pm till Monday at 9 when they had to be back at work. Many were using huge amounts of poppers, an inhaled nitrite compound designed to relax muscles which worked to facilitate anal penetration. When you breathe it in, you get a rush that can become very addictive. Poppers were marketed directly to gay men and were in such popular use that entire clubs reeked of the odor and people wore specially designed popper-holding necklaces. When it was noted that nitrites were carcinogenic, manufacturers circumvented health restrictions by selling them as tape head cleaners or room deodorizers and kept up aggressive ad campaigns to the gay community.
 
Also, among all this revery and celebration, many people were hiding who they really were, being one person on weekends and another at work or with their families. It’s hard to quantify the specific physiological effects of living with these sorts of secrets although we know the detrimental health consequences of chronic stress.
 
Part of the difficulty in determining what was causing GBS, GRID and finally AIDS, was that the US Centers for Disease Control was populated with virologists—now it’s geneticists and virologists—who were biased towards looking for an explanation in their area of expertise, something they could get funding for, something they could use as a basis for treatment and vaccine research. Multiple health risks don’t provide that opportunity, but viruses do. And viruses are, of course, plentiful in people. Look inside someone and you’ll find any number of viruses and retroviruses. Whether any one particular virus causes the condition you’re trying to explain is another question. Just because a virus is present doesn’t automatically implicate it as a cause of disease. Proper, ethical science requires more steps to prove that and from the beginning, these steps were skipped. Did researchers find AIDS patients crawling with this new virus? No. Not at all.
 
My point is that the search for explanations and solutions began with a desired answer. It was biased from the beginning and based on a certain degree of unconscious prejudice: The first victims were gay men. What’s being gay about? Sex, therefore, the disease must be sexually transmitted. If at the beginning you had a different group of people becoming ill—say a subgroup of young parents living in urban areas—such an assumption wouldn’t have been so automatic, there probably would have been a broader search for causes. I’m surprised more gay activists didn’t question what I see as a clearly prejudicial assumption that the disease must be sexually transmitted. Researchers were not investigating what AIDS victims had been doing by asking the right questions, or trying to understand their world and how it might affect their health. 
 
Who was the next group brought in under the AIDS umbrella? Another group for whom there are logical and obvious explanations to look toward in understanding poor health: IV drug users. Not only were they injecting various uncontrolled chemical substances, but chronic, long-term users tend to forgo food, shelter, and basic medical care, get all sorts of infections and live in ways that pose serious health risks. Should we be surprised when they begin coming down with illnesses that one would expect and that have been noted for decades in this population? Finding immune compromised drug users was nothing new or unique, yet it was described as such.
 
DJ:  So you’re not arguing that there isn’t a wave of immunosuppression. . . .
 
CM: No, although I would argue against the notions that everyone who tests positive is immune suppressed, that immune suppression must lead to death, and that the only way to treat immune suppression in a person who tests HIV positive is through drugs supposedly directed at this viral entity.
 
DJ:  This all makes me wonder how much immune suppression is caused by the toxification of our bodies and total environment with the carcinogenic chemicals, endocrine disruptors, and so on that are the necessary products of industrial production.
 
CM: I’ve met, corresponded with, and have offered referrals for medical care to a number of people with the major symptoms associated with AIDS who’ve never tested HIV positive. One example I use in my book is a San Francisco woman who didn’t figure in to any AIDS risk group, but worked in an art studio and used very powerful chemical solvents everyday. She had a complete immune breakdown with constant flu symptoms and yeast infections so profound she couldn’t eat or digest food. Had she tested HIV positive, doctors would have stopped right there in trying to explain her immunosuppression and treated her with AIDS drugs. Because she never tested positive, she had to seek out other explanations, and nearly died in the process. After a long struggle and a combination of western and alternative therapies, she’s almost back to normal.
 
When I tested HIV positive, doctors told me there was nothing I could do to protect or save my health. Imagine instead if doctors said, “Your positive HIV test, although it hasn’t been verified against a standard of finding HIV infection in people, has been shown at times to correlate with actual immune suppression. Let’s take an in depth look at your health and the circumstances of your life—what you eat, what you do, etc and see if we can identify ways to reverse any immune suppression you might actually have through lifestyle or dietary changes, nutritional therapies or supplementation and if necessary, pharmaceutical treatments.”
 
Instead, if you test positive, you’re told you have a life-threatening disease that can only be treated with toxic drugs that we honestly don’t know much about.  We haven’t even had placebo control trials of these drugs. . . .
 
DJ:  Which is amazing.
 
CM: It’s horrifying. The big AIDS advertising slogan—Treatment Equals Life—has never been shown to be true through the only way to show this, placebo controlled drug trials. In 1987 when AZT, after one flawed, compromised and quickly aborted trial sponsored by the drug’s manufacturer, was declared a success, one AIDS researcher with strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry lobbied to have any AIDS drug trial not using at least AZT as a placebo control declared unethical. Since then, AIDS researchers have been barred from testing the safety and efficacy of AIDS drugs against a true placebo since what used to be ethical is now unethical. They don’t even use HIV positives that voluntarily decline AIDS drugs as an unblinded control group.
 
AZT is a failed cancer drug, shelved because it proved so toxic it caused cancer ridden mice to die of its effects faster than they died of cancer. AZT works by terminating the formation of new DNA chains.  Even if you don’t understand a lot about science that’s pretty grave. It’s known to cause five of our officially recognized AIDS-defining illnesses including lymphoma, muscle-wasting, and T cell depletion, which is supposed to be what AIDS is. It was used for the first time on human beings in AIDS drug trials.
 
The new AIDS drug trials are no better. A twenty-four week trial is oftentimes enough to get a treatment on the market and promoted as life-saving. Results are no longer measured in terms of clinical health or improved survival but based on levels of “viral load.” We discover all the horrendous side effects “post marketing” as it’s called.
                 
In my case, how could “treatment equal life?” I’ve enjoyed more than 12 years of great health and life since my diagnosis in 1992—17 years if you date my positive status by the mainstream practice of contact tracing. And I’m not an anomaly. If I were, this would be a very short conversation. I wouldn’t bother with all this stuff. I’d consider myself damn lucky, and maybe find religion. But there are people like me, positive, healthy and taking no AIDS drugs, all over the world. I just got a letter from someone in Camaroon: “I tested positive the same year as you, Christine. I haven’t touched a single drug and I’m fine. People need to know about this.” I’m not living some unique situation, but a very common one. We only believe it’s unique because the media, our government and AIDS organizations ignore or dismiss people like me. 
 
DJ:  I don’t understand why the government and pharmaceuticals have not just done the tests.  I’m suspecting, and I don’t want to send you any direction you don’t want to go, that the National Institutes of Health research expenditures of $43,000 per person who died of AIDS has something to do with the answer.
 
CM:  Compare that to the $1,160 for every person who died of heart disease, and $4,700 for each person who died of cancer.  Twenty-five hundred dollars is paid to testing sites for every test that registers HIV positive. The US Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health have constantly increasing AIDS budgets that have never even come under question for cuts, although AIDS cases in this country have been declining steadily since 1993, and would have leveled off in 1992 had AIDS not been redefined to include people who aren’t sick. 
 
DJ:  We’re always told AIDS is continuing to explode.
 
CM:  It’s not. It long stopped exploding here, if it ever did explode in the first place. If you look at the numbers—and every number represents a life and a tragedy—it’s not a major cause of death in this country. If you remove all emotions and motives from the conversation and talk just about numbers, it’s pretty unspectacular. More people die in car accidents each year than die of AIDS. More people commit suicide each year than die of AIDS. More people die of flu and pneumonia than die of AIDS. More than three times as many people die each year of heart disease than have ever died of AIDS. Again, that’s not to say there’s not a tragedy in each and every AIDS death. But the attention and funding given to AIDS are entirely out of proportion to what’s actually going on.
 
DJ:  Why?
 
CM: We had a problem that was described as the end of the world. A sexually-transmitted virus that would wipe you out in a couple of years. It could happen to anyone. Health care workers would be in the line of fire. Female prostitutes would spread it to their clients, who would take it home to their wives and children—everybody was going to die. We moved very quickly to address the horrifying predictions. I question whether the direction we moved in was the right one, and whether the decision to eliminate all other possible directions was wise. But the systems that have come into place around AIDS are huge and almost unassailable, and benefit from the continuation of the chosen direction.
 
There are some people involved in AIDS who could walk away tomorrow and do something else for a living. But there are many, many more whose careers are totally dependent on AIDS. For a lot of people outside the industry, AIDS is their entire emotional lives. It’s extremely difficult to suddenly put the brakes on a huge social investment and massive industry that employs many thousands of people in many thousands of organizations, all operating under the assumptions that HIV causes AIDS, that the tests are accurate, and that the drugs are safe and effective. Probably most of these people have goodness in their hearts, but AIDS has become a huge, heartless machine.
 
Part of the problem is that there is so little incentive to question the system, especially from the inside. It’s hard to question any system that supports you. Whistleblowers aren’t usually rewarded, no matter what sector they’re blowing their whistle about, and in this one, given the mass media consensus and disinterest and even disdain for alternative views, it would be very hard to have your whistle heard. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to challenge systems that benefit from the perpetuation of the beliefs they generate.
                 
I’m not suggesting AIDS is some evil conspiracy on the part of transnational pharmaceutical corporations, government officials and activists. None of this has anything to do with a conspiracy. If anything, it’s business as usual driven by the logic of the bottom line.
 
That the drug companies work to hold the HIV hypothesis in place is understandable given they are businesses rather than benevolent entities and profit tremendously from the drugs and tests used in the war against AIDS, even when they lower prices or “give away” their products. Drug companies strive to do what most all corporations do: make more money. They do this by developing products and selling them to ever-greater numbers of people, by looking for new markets for their products, by securing government contracts whenever possible, by selling off old inventory to outside markets, exporting it someplace where it’s the greatest thing people can get their hands on. That’s exactly what you see going on with AIDS. Who profits from mandatory testing for pregnant women? That’s a whole new market for the tests opened up right there.  Who profits from government mandates on drug therapies? Who will benefit from mandatory vaccines? We don’t have it yet, but we’re getting real close. This is no conspiracy. It’s just business. We recognize it when corporations and governments do this in other areas of our lives. I’m always surprised at how so few critical thinkers, social leaders and liberal progressives recognize it in AIDS.
 
Most doctors don’t have the time or incentive to consider that two decades of AIDS practices may be misguided, while researchers are beholden to the systems that funds their work, none of which reward questioning or testing the HIV hypothesis and many that actively prohibit it. Government funded researchers are required to adhere to government AIDS policy which embraces HIV as the sole cause of AIDS and considers other avenues of exploration, to cite former AIDS Czar Sandra Thurman, “irresponsible.”
 
Activists who truly care about AIDS have a deep emotional investment in the stands they’ve taken and the policies they’ve inspired. Can you imagine having to consider if your acts of charity and concern have killed and terrorized the very people you meant to help?
 
DJ: Aren’t there a fair number of people who’ve been associated intimately with HIV/AIDS research who’ve come to ask many of the same questions you are? 
 
CM: They led me to question this, and my questioning is based on their questions. I’m grateful they exist, and that they stand up and raise challenges, and have the courage to that do so within forums that do not honor them, but rather punish them for manifesting the spirit of scientific inquiry. Yes, there are many scientists, doctors, researchers, journalists and AIDS activists who do not espouse the AIDS orthodoxy.
 
Admittedly, these people are in the minority. But science isn’t a popularity contest. And think of what little reward and terrible punishment await those who question the hegemony of the mainstream AIDS doctrine. Professor Peter Duesberg of UC Berkeley stands as an excellent example and powerful warning to any scientist who thinks for himself with regard to AIDS. He’s a formidable scholar in the field of retroviruses, elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1986 and the recipient of a seven-year Outstanding Investigator Grant from the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately for his career, however, in 1987, he began to believe that there was little virological or epidemiological evidence to back-up the HIV-AIDS hypothesis, and that HIV could be biochemically inactive and harmless. Further, he questioned whether AIDS behaves as a contagious disease. Instead he proposes that the various American and European AIDS diseases are brought on by the long-term consumption of recreational drugs and/or AIDS drugs, and that African AIDS conforms to nutritionally- and chemically-caused diseases. Once his challenges were published in mainstream medical literature, Duesberg’s funding was cut off. He’s been ostracized by the researcher community that once honored him, and is no longer permitted to teach graduate level courses. The point is that any research scientist who is supported by some form of government grant—which describes most research institutions and scientists—is rewarded for not rocking the boat, and cut off from the gravy train by speaking out.
If faced with similar prospects, I think a lot of us would simply continue with our careers. It’s human nature to keep thinking the way we’ve been taught to think, especially when we’re rewarded for doing so.
 
DJ:  What about Africa?  We keep hearing that some parts of sub-Saharan Africa may be depopulated within a few years.
 
CM: If you remember, we used to hear the same sorts of predictions about the United States. In 1987, Oprah said that by 1990, “One in five heterosexuals will be dead from AIDS.” The year before, Newsweek had stated that by 1991, “HIV will have spread to between 5 and 10 million Americans.” In 1988, USA Today claimed that within three years “1 in 10 babies may be AIDS victims.” In 1986, National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases Director Dr Anthony Fauci said that within ten years, five million Americans would be HIV positive and one million would be dead. We haven’t hit the million mark here with AIDS cases, dead or alive, in twenty years of AIDS. Even more absurdly, in 1993, US Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala stated, “Without massive federal AIDS intervention, there may be no one left.”
                 
It’s interesting how we’ve forgotten that we were once the subject of the same sort of predictions being made about other countries today. Now the predictions are about Africa or Southeast Asia, places few of us visit, and fewer still know much about in a historical, social, economic or political sense.
                 
People who talk about AIDS cases in Africa don’t usually refer to hard numbers of cases and deaths. Most of us don’t realize that the horrible ideas put out in the media are based on estimates and projections that aren’t founded on any reliable epidemiology. In South Africa, for example, it’s said that between four and five million people are HIV positive and/or have AIDS. I read a recent news report saying 8,500 South Africans die every day from AIDS. But if you look at the only hard numbers available, you see that the twenty-year total for actual AIDS cases—living and dead—is less than fifteen thousand. Some AIDS activists say that there’s such a stigma attached to AIDS that people in South Africa don’t want AIDS on death certificates, so AIDS deaths are registered as something else. But if you look at deaths in all categories, you find there’s no great phenomenon of death going on in South Africa: annual death rates are about 8/10ths of one percent annually among people of both sexes age 15 and over from all causes, including AIDS.
 
The numbers similarly fail to add up in other African countries. A Reuters article a couple of years ago claimed that according to UN estimates, a Kenyan dies of AIDS every three minutes. But if you do the math that means 480 Kenyans die per day making 175,000 AIDS deaths per year and three million since we began counting AIDS in 1981. But since 1981, there have been 81,492 total diagnosed AIDS cases in Kenya.
 
DJ: You’re saying that South Africa, for example, isn’t suffering even epidemics of pneumonia or tuberculosis?
 
CM: I’m saying infant mortality rates have not increased in South Africa during the AIDS epidemic, that life expectancy there is at an all-time high and that population continues to grow at a healthy 3% annually.  This is not what you would expect to see if a country is under siege from an epidemic. During President Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS advisory panel meetings, the doctors and scientists who claim South Africa will lose an entire generation of its youth to AIDS were asked to produce the documents that show this, that give actual numbers. They couldn’t do it. They could only offer estimates and projections. And can you guess what the estimates are based on? Giving pregnant women HIV antibody tests. I mentioned previously that pregnancy can cross-react with the tests, and multiple pregnancies make cross-reactions more likely. In Africa the average woman has five children during her lifetime. What’s worse is that they usually give these women the least reliable test, diagnosing them based on a single “ELISA,” an ultrasensitive test designed for screening blood supplies and prone to “non-specific reactions.” Here in America, ELISA is used only as a screening test and if positive, it must be verified by two Western blot tests. AIDS numbers for all of South Africa are extrapolated from about 15,000 tests administered to pregnant women.
 
There’s something else I want to say about South Africa. My husband Robin and I were there last summer as exhibitors at the 13th International AIDS Conference. We took time away from the conference to visit hospitals and shanty towns where we saw tremendous human suffering, suffering for which there is no easy answer. You can’t import drugs and make it go away. Telling people they practice some terrible form of sex will not ease this kind of suffering. The shanty homes are made of trash: scrap metal, scrap wood, and other found objects. Latrines oftentimes are right next to the drinking water supply and the water is covered with flies and mosquitoes. People don’t have enough to eat. As many as sixty percent of black South Africans are unemployed and there’s no social welfare system, so if you don’t work, you don’t eat, you don’t feed your family. A government pension provides about $20 a month.
 
Sometimes I think we’d like to believe we can solve Africa’s problems easily and quickly with a magic formula like the one proposed for AIDS: condoms and drugs. But there is no simple or single solution, just a lot of work that needs to be done with regard to infrastructure. The majority of people in Africa don’t have basic medical care. I work with people in various African countries who tell me that if the medical dispensary is out of drugs, you’re out of luck. One man we work with had two young relatives die in one year because there was no TB medicine available in his town. These people were HIV negative. And then the real tragedy comes when you’re labeled HIV positive or AIDS. A great deal of AIDS cases there are diagnosed based solely on clinical symptoms such as persistent fever, involuntary weight loss, persistent cough, and diarrhea. But many conditions endemic to Africa can cause those symptoms: malnutrition, starvation, lack of clean water, parasitic infections, amoebic infections, TB, malaria. To label the results of poverty, drought, colonialism, civil war, dictatorship and the lack of funding for infrastructure as AIDS does not help anyone. . . .
 
DJ:  Except perhaps stockholders of pharmaceutical corporations.
CM: And it harms a lot of people. If you’ve been labeled as having AIDS, and you have TB, and there is a limited amount of TB medicine available, you don’t get treatment. You’re told to go home and die since there’s no hope for you anyway.
 
This links back to what I was saying a few moments ago about the inevitable logic of profit maximization.  Let’s solve all the problems stemming from starvation, internal decay and the inhumane policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund by selling AIDS drugs to the non-industrialized world. Let’s solve a lack of food, clean water, education, medical care, sustainable agriculture, and decent housing by offering lower prices on expensive drugs we don’t use here anymore. It clears our inventories and our conscience at the same time.
 
DJ: It sounds like what you’re saying is that much of what we call AIDS could instead be symptoms linked to persistent chemicals in the environment, or drug abuse, malnutrition, or whatever else…
 
CM: Yes.
 
DJ:  What would it take to convince you that you’re wrong?CM: I am willing, and have been all along, at any point to say, “Sorry. Wrong. Hopefully this discussion led to some productive conversations, and directions that may help people.”  But I haven’t seen any compelling arguments or evidence convincing me I need to apologize.
 
One argument I hear all the time is that when the new AIDS drugs came out in 1996, AIDS death rates dropped dramatically. But if you look at a recent report that came out from the US Centers for Disease Control, you see that in 1996, less than 20 percent of people who “needed” them even held prescriptions for the new drugs. And if you look at the numbers more carefully, you see that the deaths were going down before the drugs ever came out. You’ll also find that the improved rates of survival attributed to the availability of new AIDS drugs are confounded by the effect of the 1993 definition of AIDS which allows clinically healthy people to be diagnosed with AIDS. How can survival rates among AIDS patients not improve when since 1993, more than half of all Americans diagnosed with AIDS aren’t sick? A team of mainstream AIDS researchers in Italy tested the effect of including clinically health HIV positives as AIDS patients and found when they did so, survival rates for AIDS patients increased 2.5 fold.
 
Another point to consider: at the last International AIDS Conference held in July of 2002, AIDS researchers from the University of Pittsburgh presented data from a large study that very clearly revealed AIDS drugs, not AIDS diseases, are now the leading cause of death among HIV positive Americans.
 
DJ:  What about the “Lazarus effect”?
 
CM: Most people involved in AIDS know somebody that knows somebody who got up off his death bed like Lazarus after taking the new AIDS drugs—a phenomenon which, by the way, has never occurred within the confines of a controlled trial or study. We’re now learning that the new supposedly HIV-specific protease inhibitor drugs aren’t HIV-specific at all, a fact which has both an upside and a downside. The upside is the drugs inhibit the proteases of other microbes that cause AIDS-defining illnesses. The downside is that this beneficial effect is inconsistent and temporary, and the drugs inhibit human proteases. Since the introduction of these drugs, we’ve seen the widespread development of a condition called lipodystrophy in great percentages of user. This metabolic disorder causes fat to accumulate on the back of shoulders, necks, torsos, and breasts while arms and legs become, as they say in the medical literature, “sticklike,” and faces cave in. People who take the drugs are negotiating with insurance companies to cover face lifts and other plastic surgery. Some doctors insert cadaver tissue into patients’ cheeks after the drugs cause the facial tissues to collapse. These drugs also cause heart attacks and strokes, chronic diarrhea, bone necrosis—which requires hip replacement surgery in many cases—kidney stones, diabetes, sleep disorders, and liver toxicity, sometimes to the point of liver failure, and sudden death. There’s a whole laundry list of horrible effects no one knew much about when these drugs were approved.
 
If you talk to people who take them and feel they benefit from doing so, you find that many are also angry because they’ve been physically deformed or have such bad diarrhea they risk soiling themselves if they stray too far from a rest room. I get emails all the time from people that say, “These drugs helped me in a period of need, but my face has caved in, I don’t have a butt left, I ache everywhere, and I can’t leave the house unless I’m wearing diapers. I want to get off of them. Help!”
 
DJ:  And they’re expensive.
 
CM: And there are other costs besides the AIDS treatments themselves. These drugs elevate cholesterol and liver enzyme levels so you do regular lab work to monitor for those effects. They cause anemia, so you take treatments to regenerate red blood cells. Because of diarrhea and loss of appetite, you may need high calorie food supplements and appetite stimulants. They cause insomnia creating a need for sleeping pills. They can cause psychotic episodes, so you have to medicate that. They cause diabetes which is then treated with more drugs.
 
I’m not suggesting that no one should take the drugs. They’ve obviously helped some people get off their deathbeds and that’s wonderful. But their experiences don’t mean that everybody who tests HIV positive should take the drugs, or that they’re safe for pregnant women and children, or that the drugs will continue in the long run to help the people whose lives they did save, or even that the drugs were necessarily the best way to alleviate their sickness. Most HIV and AIDS diagnosed people see doctors who know only one way, kill the microbe, and don’t know much of anything about restoring or enhancing health. Many people who see doctors within the AIDS system say, “Well, I exhausted all my possibilities, so I had to take the AIDS drugs.” But we’re generally talking about a very narrow path of possibilities. And if you’re going to take drugs that cause horrendous adverse effects, I’d hope that you’d first exhaust all possibilities, not just all the possibilities within an artificially-constrained spectrum.
                 
And we still have the issue of no placebo control trials. You can find studies that say, “Randomized placebo control study of ritonavir” for example, but if you read the fine print, you’ll see that the people in the placebo group were on ten or fifteen different drugs.
 
DJ: It would seem that if only twenty percent of the people were taking the drugs anyway, they would have had no problem finding control groups where half the people aren’t going to take any drugs.
 
CM: Well, the problem is AIDS researchers and drug companies aren’t looking for drug-free controls, and true placebo controls have been declared unethical. To give you an idea of the Orwellian nature of AIDS ethics, there was a study recently conducted in Africa on mother-to-child transmission of HIV through breastfeeding. This study examined so-called mother to child transmission rates in three groups of HIV positive mothers: one group exclusively breast feeding, another group mixing formula with breast feeding, and a group giving their infants formula only. Interestingly, the lowest numbers of positive testing children were found among the exclusively breastfed babies. This very important study has had no effect on public health policy, has barely been mentioned in the media, and has not been followed up with further studies. Why? Doctors and activists within the AIDS establishment denounced the study as unethical, they vowed that a similar study won’t be conducted in the United States—probably because it would produce even more paradigm shattering results since breastfeeding mothers here tend not to suffer from starvation or lack of medical care. Some righteously declared that this sort of study should never happen anywhere again. 
 
DJ:  Wouldn’t it have been dangerous in other ways for HIV-positive women who are breastfeeding to admit this publicly?
 
CM: In the US and other western nations, yes. I’ve been working with Marian Thompson, co-founder of La Leche League International, to generate interest and funding for a large-scale study examining the outcomes of HIV-positive mothers and their children who opt for natural childbirth and breastfeeding. One of our biggest problems is that these women are afraid to tell even me or Marian who they are. If you come out as an HIV-positive breastfeeding mother, you risk having custody of your child taken from you. It is dangerous for HIV-positive women who are pregnant to even say, “Look, I’ve made an informed decision to decline the drug therapies. I have a long record of excellent health, the children I had prior to knowing I test positive are HIV negative, and since the man I married ten years ago is HIV negative, my positive status must predate our union. According to your rules, he and my children should be positive, so clearly there’s some uncertainty with how this all works.” You do that, and the next thing you know you’ve got the hospital ethics board on you, police officers in the delivery room, and your baby in state custody. My organization provides legal advice and defense to HIV positive mothers who decline standards of care. In September of 2000, we helped a mother regain custody of her 18 month old son. Under orders from Child Protective Services, seven police officers had taken him away a few days after she told his doctors she wanted a second opinion about the aggressive regimen of AIDS drugs they were recommending. Her little boy was perfectly healthy, had alternately tested HIV positive, negative and indeterminate, and the drugs had made him very ill.
 
I’ll tell you another story of how crazy things get with regard to AIDS. There was a woman who lived with her boyfriend, a guy who considers himself an anarchist. The boyfriend was very involved in the World Trade Organization protests, promotes the importance of human need over corporate greed, and all that. Well, three days before the woman was due to have their baby, she tested HIV positive. At her request, we overnighted information to her and to her midwife, and she made a decision to not take the AIDS drugs. And her boyfriend turned her in! The same guy who’s standing up for everybody elses’ rights to be free from corporate agendas and government intervention wanted to force his girlfriend and their child to take toxic chemicals manufactured by the very pharmaceutical giants and multinational chemical corporations he protests against. She had to leave him, flee the state and move back home with her family.
 
DJ: In your book you quote the late AIDS activist and author Michael Callen, “There is classical science—the way it’s supposed to work—and then there’s religion. I regained my sanity when I realized that AIDS science was a religious discourse. The one thing I will go to my grave not understanding is why everyone was so quick to accept everything the government said as truth. Especially the central myth: The cause of AIDS is known. What in the world made activists accept that—on the basis of a press conference, no less?”
 
CM: I love the end of that quote: “My only theory is that AIDS requires the daily management of massive amounts of uncertainty, and people cling to any certainty they can find. Even if it’s false.” I think we want answers, even if the answers don’t add up.
                 
Part of the work of my organization is to seek answers that do add up. We design and implement clinical studies in areas the AIDS establishment is neglecting to explore. We’ve got one going now in which people who are HIV positive and ill but don’t want to take AIDS drugs consult with a toxicologist/pathologist who performs a differential diagnosis, a diagnosis based on intense scrutiny of the patient’s medical and life history and which determines probable causes of illness based on the information that comes forth rather than on the assumption HIV is the cause. The patients are then referred to holistic MDs who treat what the differential diagnosis has uncovered using non-toxic protocols. We’ve had really promising results, and with relatively no funding.
                 
We’re currently seeking funding to do what AIDS scientists should have done a long time ago: establish proper accuracy rates for HIV tests. We’d also like to do studies of viral loads in HIV positive and HIV negative matched cohorts and do the same sorts of systematic studies with T cell counts to help determine whether they really have any predictive value.
                 
We’re working to put forward solutions and open dialogue. I very actively seek out my opponents and detractors. A while back, a prominent local AIDS doctor wrote an article in which he called me “sadistically misguided.” So I called him up and we went to lunch. We had a great conversation. We found out we have a lot of points in common. I now refer him patients that want to see an AIDS establishment MD because he promised he would never coerce anybody into taking the drug therapies. I wish I saw this same kind of initiative coming from the “other side.” It’s only by open discussion, and by exploring anomalies—not by ignoring or dismissing them—that you come to meaningful answers and solutions.
 
The US Centers for Disease Control know perfectly well who I am. Reporters doing stories on me usually contact them for comments. You’d think maybe they’d give me a call sometime and say, “Hey, Christine, you know a lot of people who are HIV positive and fine and haven’t done any of the things we think they’re supposed to do. Maybe we could work together to find out why the heck these people are so healthy.” Instead, they call me names like “AIDS denialist” and characterize my work as “a hoax.” A couple years ago, Dr. Robert Gallo told a correspondent from CNN that my decision to have a natural childbirth and breastfeed my son should not be discussed on television.
 
When I was the subject of a segment on ABC’s 20/20, Dr. Mathilde Krim of AmfAR, the AIDS researcher who lobbied to make placebo controlled AIDS drug tried unethical, was interviewed for the same segment in order to “balance” my views. The producer asked Krim if they could tape her and me going back and forth. She said no. Could they at least film or photograph us standing next to each other? No. She refused to speak with me, even in private.
 
In 2001, I was invited by the department of communications at the University of Pittsburgh to debate a prominent AIDS researcher on campus. He refused the invitation saying there was nothing to discuss. They tried other researchers on campus and they all refused. The university has one of the most prestigious AIDS research facilities in the country, yet not a single scientist there would engage in public dialogue with me.
 
DJ:  Let’s go back to a fundamental question, then, which is why do so many people who are HIV positive get sick?
 
CM: I think a better question is: how do people who’ve tested HIV positive not get sick? Think about the information we’re given when we test positive, what the world constantly tells us about ourselves, the social isolation and judgments we endure, the prejudice we face from the medical industry, insurance companies, in relationships, and at work. It’s even worse if you’re a gay man. The magazines and news journals that address your world are full of stories about AIDS from the usual dire perspective, ads trying to convince you your survival depends on the latest drug, enticements to become involved in experimental trials or to sell off your life insurance, safe sex reminders that instruct you to desire and fear intimacy—all of this in your face every day, plus peer pressure to conform, to get with the program.
 
It’s damn hard to stand up to all that and stay sane and healthy, even when you are sane and healthy. Rather than wonder why people who test HIV positive get sick, I think we should wonder how they don’t.
 
Once you’ve tested positive, it can be very difficult to find a doctor who will treat you and not the notion of HIV. HIV positives are often denied other health care if they decline drug therapies. To give one example, an HIV positive man contacted us who needed surgery for a congenital heart defect. His HMO told him that unless he was willing to be on the drug therapies, he couldn’t have the necessary surgery. The third time he ended up in the emergency room with heart failure, they finally operated.
 
A woman I know from a support group went to a doctor for a cold she felt was turning into something worse. She revealed she was HIV positive and explained that she didn’t want AIDS drug therapies since her husband had died from them, she just wanted care for her immediate problem. At first, the doctor refused to take her as a patient. Then he prescribed some super potent antibiotic combination he would never give a “normal” person which caused her weeks of diarrhea, a rampant yeast infection, and to fear she was dying of AIDS. With the help of a naturopath, she fully recovered.
 
Another woman told me that after she tested positive, her dentist refused to finish a root canal he’d started. A healthy HIV positive man I know was turned away from an emergency room by doctors who said that if he wasn’t willing to help himself by taking the AIDS drugs, they saw no point in helping him. He later died of sepsis, one of the most common causes of death in this country.
                 
I’ll give you another example of the blindness caused by this dogma.   There’s a guy who tested HIV a few years ago who attends our events and is on the drug therapies. . . .
 
DJ:  Does that bother you?
 
CM:  No, we’re not against drug therapies. We’re simply in favor of informed choice. 
 
Anyway, this guy was telling his doctor he had abdominal pain. His doctor saw him as Mr. HIV-Positive and assumed he had elevated liver enzymes since the AIDS drugs frequently cause that. His liver enzymes were fine, but the abdominal pain persisted and he kept complaining. The doctor checked his enzymes repeatedly and finding no problem, assumed there was none to be found. The guy’s appendix finally burst, they had to remove part of his colon and he ended up in the hospital for a month.
                 
That is what the whole religion of HIV has done. It hasn’t enhanced medical care. It’s restricted it. It keeps people from being treated like people.
 
The only effective medical care is individualized care. But everybody who tests HIV positive is put in the same box.
 
We’re not telling people to drop out of the health care system. That’s not the point at all. Instead what’s most important is to find ways to integrate HIV positives into a thoughtful, compassionate, respectful health care system.
 
DJ: If you could accomplish one thing with your work, what would it be?CM: To inspire thinking, caring people to look at AIDS with the same scrutiny, skepticism, and open-mindedness they apply to other issues of importance, and to understand that those of us asking questions are doing so because we want answers that benefit everyone.
 
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* This interview/article by Derrick Jensen is based on conversations with Christine Maggiore that took place during 2001 and 2002. Originally commissioned by The Sun, a literary magazine The Sun’s editors
 

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