From ABC News, August 27, 2001
Questioning AIDS:
ABC News Online Chat with Christine Maggiore
“You told ABC News 20/20: ‘The idea that HIV causes AIDS is an idea that has not been proven to be correct or true…There are many valid, vital reasons to go back and rethink what we've been told.’ Why should we question the most basic medical and scientific findings about the disease?”
[Following my appearance on 20/20, I had the opportunity to communicate directly with viewers and respond—uninterrupted and unedited—to their questions and concerns. The chat was originally scheduled to last just 40 minutes, but due to overwhelming interest, we continued for more than 90. Since I was not able to see the questions for myself, I instructed the moderator to give me the most difficult ones and/or those most frequently asked, and to skip easy questions, affirmations, and compliments. In this way, I could respond to viewers who had never heard of me or the issue and wanted to learn more.]
In 1992, Christine Maggiore tested positive for HIV after a routine medical exam. Believing she was terminally ill, she devoted herself to warning others about the dangers of AIDS.
But a year after she was diagnosed, another HIV test came back indeterminate and a subsequent test was negative. Frustrated and angry, Maggiore desperately searched for answers. The more she read, the more questions she had.
Maggiore's controversial book, What if Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?, questions the most basic medical and scientific findings about the disease.
Activists and many AIDS experts have attacked her for her dissident views, but Maggiore's influence is growing, and her voice has been heard across the country and around the world.
Here is the transcript of our live chat with Maggiore:
We're joined by Christine Maggiore, author of the book What if Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong? and founder of Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, a non-profit organization that provides educational support, peer support, independent research, and legal defense for people affected by and concerned with issues relating to HIV and AIDS. Welcome, Christine!
"The idea that HIV causes AIDS is an idea that has not been proven to be correct or true," you told ABCNEWS' 20/20. "There are many valid, vital reasons to go back and rethink what we've been told." Why, in your view, should we question the most basic medical and scientific findings about the disease?
Christine Maggiore:
I think the primary concerns are that, after 20 years and $93 billion dollars, scientists still have no explanation as to how or why HIV causes AIDS; that, to this day, we are using tests to give people life and death diagnoses that do not identify HIV or detect HIV-specific antibody response; that official treatments center around toxic health-compromising drugs that do not address specific individualized needs; and that since 1987, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Matilda Krim, there have been no drug trials for AIDS in which drugs are tested in a proper, scientific way, against a true placebo control.
Lynelle asks: "Are you at all concerned about the high possibility and risk of giving HIV or AIDS to your children and husband?"
Based on my extensive research, personal experience with my own excellent health, and working with thousands of people worldwide who test HIV-positive and lead healthy, productive, and even exceptional lives, and given the non-specific nature of the tests, I don't have fears.
My son will be 4 in two weeks and he's far above average in every stage of his physical and mental development and has never been sick.
Normally, pregnancy causes a certain degree of immune suppression in healthy, HIV-negative women. Even in these particular circumstances, I'm ridiculously healthy.
Jessie writes: "What happened to the person who gave you HIV? Has he come down with full blown AIDS?"
In 1996, following cosmetic surgery that didn't go well, he received a blood transfusion for loss of blood, and while hospitalized, came down with pneumonia. Due to that, he was given an AIDS diagnosis and started on the medications.
Sam Johnson asks: "How do you explain the high amounts of AIDS in southern Africa in only countries that have a high percentage of HIV?"
Most people don't realize that the numbers we hear about are estimates and projections, not actual diagnosed cases of AIDS.
The estimates currently for South Africa are between 4 and 5 million cases of HIV/AIDS. However, actual diagnosed cases of AIDS for the past 20 years number less than 13,000, and during the AIDS epidemic there has been no increase in infant mortality rates in South Africa. The average life expectancy is at an all-time high, the population grows at a healthy 3% annually, and death rates from all causes including AIDS are less than 1% annually.
In India, for example, it's estimated that in 1999, close to 2 million people died of AIDS in that year alone. Officially counted AIDS cases, however, for the entire AIDS epidemic are just over 11,000.
The media favors harrowing estimates over the less concerning actual numbers.
Nicole writes: "Don't you feel that your choice to bring your children into the world and risking their lives is just a little bit selfish?"
No. I am very certain of the choices I've made with regard to my own health and that of my family. Like any loving, responsible parent, I want what's best for my children and I work very, very hard to be a well-informed, responsible mother.
I'm sure if you met my family you would think differently about your assumption regarding my choices.
Catnip wonders: "What is the percentage of people who test HIV-positive who have lived symptom-free as long as you, or longer?"
Unfortunately, there are no unbiased studies that quantify the number of people who test HIV-positive and enjoy normal health. Instead, we have studies that define health through laboratory markers like T-cell counts and viral load results, neither of which can accurately identify or predict good health.
For example, I know a man in San Francisco who has been HIV-positive, healthy, and taking no AIDS drugs since 1986. Although he's never been ill, he was excluded from a study of healthy HIV-positives because his T-cell count was 62 lower than the study's entry level requirement.
Despite the lack of properly-constructed studies, there are numerous published reports showing that HIV-positives who live in health tend to stay away from AIDS drugs or have only taken them for a brief period of time and engage in proper nutrition, exercise, healthy life choices, and have a healthy mental outlook.
Dooby writes: "At what point of researching existing AIDS/HIV information did you begin to see holes in current research and theorems?"
When I first tested HIV-positive, there was conflicting information about my own diagnosis that, had I not been so frightened, I probably would have explored further.
It wasn't until a year later, after becoming a public speaker and educator for several prominent AIDS organizations and being on the board of Women at Risk, that I had the personal experience of going from HIV-positive to indeterminate, to positive to negative to positive.
Since none of what I was taught to teach others explained my conflicting test results, I began to look deeper into the AIDS education I was given and was sharing with others. It was then I found a body of compelling medical, scientific, and epidemiological data that brought into question almost everything I had accepted as true about HIV and AIDS.
Brittany asks: "Will you ever decide to test your husband and kids for HIV?"
My husband is and always has been free to make his own decisions about testing.
With regard to our son, we feel very strongly that subjecting him to a test that neither tests for the presence of the virus itself nor is able to accurately indicate the presence of HIV specific antibodies is something we can't support.
Our pediatrician and our family doctor stand behind our choices and we all have records of regular medical care showing we are far above average in our health.
Jim writes: "I just wanted to congratulate you on your ability to sustain your beliefs about AIDS and HIV and wish you live for many years to come. I did want to ask if you by any chance take any type of vitamins or supplements?"
Thank you very much. I would like to clarify that my decisions are not based on beliefs but extensive research.
With regard to vitamins and supplements, when I tested positive, I got frightened into taking a variety of nutritional supplements and eating an organic whole food diet that I still practice today. Ironically, since testing positive, I have enjoyed the best health of my life and plan to continue making healthy choices.
Lin asks: "To what do you attribute your good health?"
I was fortunate to be able to examine all sides of the issue with an open mind and to make choices that have worked for me. Not living with the chronic hopelessness, fear and dependency on an ever-vacillating AIDS authority system allows me to enjoy a healthy attitude toward life. I also love my family and having that blessing is the greatest inspiration to me.
I just want to emphasize that I am not unique. There are hundreds, thousands of HIV-positives worldwide, from Arkansas to Zambia, who live inhealth and defy the established beliefs about HIV and AIDS.
Our voices and our stories are rarely heard, which to me is one of the greatest tragedies of AIDS. We offer inspiration, hope and possibilities for alternative research and are ignored, dismissed or as in the case of Dr. Matilda Krim, declared "delusional."
Ron asks: "How does Christine explain the fact that these toxic treatments REVERSE symptoms displayed in advanced cases?"
Great question!
The “Lazarus effect” widely reported in the media following the release of the new AIDS drugs in 1996 has never been shown to occur within the confines of any controlled medical study.
I certainly do not deny and am very happy for cases in which these powerful drugs have provided people with short-term, sometimes lifesaving health benefits. However, the most recent scientific data shows this effect occurs sometimes because the drugs, contrary to common assumptions, are not HIV-specific — that is, they wipe out the proteases that cause such AIDS-defining illnesses as PCP pneumonia and candida.
We must also remember that these drugs were released a full year after AIDS deaths had peaked in this country and three years after AIDS cases had been declining.
And in 1996 — the banner year for claims of wondrous results — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, less than 20% of HIV-positives who "needed" these drugs actually held prescriptions for them.
One more important point: Since 1993 when we changed the definition of AIDS in this country to include people who test HIV-positive and are clinically healthy and symptom-free, but who have, at any one time, a T-cell count of 200 or less, more than half of our AIDS cases have been diagnosed in perfectly healthy people. If you consider that for the past 8 years the majority of AIDS victims are clinically well, we could reasonably expect to see the improved survival rate popularly attributed to the availability of the new drugs.
The AIDS definition has been changed several times. To learn more, I urge you to log on to the Alive & Well Web site
Christopher Volpe writes: "If Ms. Maggiore does not believe that HIV causes AIDS, then does she offer any speculation on what *does* cause AIDS? After all, the disease unquestionably exists, and many people have died from it."
I absolutely do not deny that AIDS exists and has been a devastating human tragedy. I personally lost countless friends and colleagues during my years at AIDS service organizations.
I do question the very narrow officially-sanctioned approaches to understanding and resolving AIDS. I don't believe that the practice of grouping 29 disconnected, disparate diseases under a single category called "AIDS" facilitates scientific progress; the identifying of practical, healthy, individualized solutions; or brings us any closer to understanding the mechanisms of immune suppression.
It's important to understand that all of the diseases and conditions called AIDS have well-known causes and treatments that have nothing to do with HIV and that they all can and do occur in people who are HIV-negative. All these conditions pre-date the use of the category "AIDS" and all pre-date the discovery of HIV.
I would urge you to consider our own approach to resolving AIDS through individualized diagnosis and non-toxic therapies based on specific need.
Eva asks: "How do you know that you are not simply an exception to the general public, that maybe you have something within your body (a gene or an antibody) which makes you less vulnerable to AIDS than others?"
I know too many HIV-positives from every ethnic background imaginable, from most every country in the world who are just like me, and I find what we have in common is not a specific ancestry, as many scientists currently believe, but our choices to stay away from toxic, health-compromising drugs and to engage in open-minded investigation of these important issues.
Also, in 1992, I was part of an HIV-positive women's support group. Most of the women were married to men who had also tested positive. These women ranged from Latina to Thai, Japanese, Eastern European. We noticed that their husbands who were on the drugs, and presumably "infected with the same strain of the virus" as their wives, all died while their wives, who for one reason or another were not taking the drugs, were fine — devastated and worried, but fine.
To me this indicates that ethnic make-up or the idea of certain strains affecting outcome are not well founded, and I see no properly prepared scientific research suggesting otherwise.
Rowen123 writes: "Do you mean to tell me that I lost my son to AIDS in 1995 because he was diagnosed HIV positive in 1988 and then went into FULL BLOWN AIDS, in February 1992, and then died in April 1995, because he took the drugs for AIDS??? If he hadn't taken the drugs, would he still be alive today???"
As a parent, my heart goes out to you. I can only begin to imagine the pain and tragedy.
I'm not a medical doctor, and even the best doctor could not responsibly or accurately offer an explanation for your son's death without access to his complete medical records.
If you're willing and able to explore the possibility that, given all his options and choices, there may have been a different outcome for your son, I would be happy to forward his medical records and history to a pathologist on our scientific advisory board who would engage in what's known as a "differential diagnosis" — that is, a diagnosis based on the factual data contained in his medical records rather than the assumption that HIV was the cause of his illness and death.
Moderator at 4:04 p.m. ET:
Our thanks to Christine Maggiore and all those who posted questions.
Your Questions Answered
As I work to respond to the many hundreds of emails I’ve received—and continue to receive—inspired by 20/20, here are some answers to your most frequently asked questions about the segment:
Q: What did you think of the broadcast?
A: I have mixed feelings about the segment. I’m grateful to ABC for addressing this highly controversial subject on prime time television and am very happy the issue was presented to millions of viewers. I also understand that 20/20’s job, along with other current events programs, is to entertain as well as inform, and that this dual goal affects the way information is presented.
My specific concerns center around the program’s adversarial tone—I feel I was put on the defensive beginning with the introduction by John Stossel—and the editorial choice to portray me as a lone voice with no mention of the hundreds of doctors and scientists rethinking AIDS, the many organizations throughout the world challenging the conventional wisdom, or even Alive & Well. I could have also done with less emphasis on breastfeeding and/or an explanation from me, or better yet, an enlightened medical expert, as to why I made the decision to decline formula.
I think the KNBC Evening News segment from earlier this year (which was inspired by the same article in Newsweek that caught 20/20’s eye) presented me and the issues in a more respectful journalistic manner, and exhibited a refreshing absence of drama.
Q: What kind of response are you getting from viewers?
A: Almost all emails and messages have been enthusiastically favorable. I’ve had three critical messages in all (so far), and of those, two of were so ridiculous it was hard to construct a reasonable reply.
Q: Who came up with the line "Maggiore knows that according to statistics, she has a 95 percent chance of dying from AIDS within the next six years unless she is treated?" This doesn’t seem like something you would say.
A: I think ABC picked up that dire prediction from the Centers for Disease Control’s web site. It’s certainly not a statistic I accept as correct or well-founded.
Q: Has anyone noticed the different time-lines for developing AIDS mentioned in the report? You tested positive in 1992 so Krim says you’re healthy because you’re still within a 10 year incubation period, but later Chung says you’ve got six more years before you die.
A: Many people have pointed out the conflicting predictions for my illness and death (what a cheery subject). Since I tested positive nine years and seven months ago, according to Krim, I’ve got just five more months (give or take a few days) of good health, while the information Chung cites gives me six more years of life—maybe for good behavior. At any rate, if you go by the mainstream practice of contact tracing, my HIV status goes back to 1985, predating my diagnosis by seven years, so either way, I’ve already beat all the predictions.
Q: Where and when did you have your interview with Connie Chung? How long did it last? Was she as tough on you as it appeared on television?
A: I spent close to five hours fielding questions from Connie Chung and the segment producer Teri Whitcraft in September of last year in New York City. Connie was actually very nice, as was everyone involved in the segment, and I enjoyed working with the entire crew. It’s Connie’s job to come off as tough and she does it well. In between takes, we talked about boring mom stuff like how hard it is to find good preschools.
It was a bit unnerving when she asked the same question several times, as though I might crack under pressure and change my story. For instance, the third time she asked if I used IV drugs, I couldn’t help but to smile since not only have I never tried them, I am completely needle-phobic.
I just did my best to stay calm, focus on the questions, and remember the camera is always running.
Q: Were you able to view the segment before it aired? Did they allow you to have any input or control?
A: No. I had no idea what the final cut would be like and I was not invited to make suggestions or comments. I had to trust that 20/20 would respect the original proposal I accepted last September which was to present my story in a fair and accurate manner.
Q: Did you meet face to face with Mathilde Krim?
A: No. Dr. Krim would not agree to be filmed or photographed with me. She also declined an invitation to meet for lunch that I conveyed through the segment producer. I guess she wasn’t hungry…

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