Scientific community at odds over HIV/AIDS theory

As the international AIDS conference in Vienna unfolded, there was heated debate over the role of large pharmaceutical companies and the established forms of treatment for HIV and AIDS.

The AIDS 2010 conference in Vienna unveiled new treatments and saw many speakers: those from the frontline, to ex-world leaders. All of them were together in voicing bold calls for zero new infections, zero deaths and zero discrimination.

The conference has been a forum for conflict and debate with everyone trying to get their voices heard, but not everyone felt they got the chance to speak.

Voicing their opinions at a separate conference held a few days before the official event was a group which challenges the fundamental assumptions many people hold about HIV and AIDS.

Kerri Stokely, who is HIV positive, was among them. After eleven years on AZT – the drug combination therapy – she stopped taking the medication after coming across these alternative views.

“It’s not that HIV/AIDS is a myth. AIDS obviously is not a myth – that’s an acronym for immune suppression,” Stokely said. “Well people become immune suppressed all over the world everyday for different reasons. Lots of things cause lowered immunity and illness. Whether HIV has been proven to be a viable infectious virus that is sexually transmitted I think is really the bigger question for me.”

These views were polar opposites to some of the calls at the official conference for earlier treatment to aid prevention.

“We have more drugs now than we ever had before to treat HIV – these drugs are potent, simpler, more tolerable, very effective,” said Melanie Thompson from Chair International AIDS Society USA.

The clash of opinions has led to harsh recriminations on both sides, with those opposed to classical explanations labeling the conference an AIDS marketing fair and the description of an AIDS pandemic a PR success – whilst in turn disagreeing with the mainstream HIV theory of AIDS has been compared to holocaust denial, and called a crime against humanity

“A science that is alive has to have the permission to question a certain model of thinking, a certain theory of thinking,” said doctor of medicine Uta Santos-Konig. “We are all scientists and medical doctors. Why should we not be able to discuss I'm astonished the reaction is sometimes so aggressive.”

Despite the debate, the one area both sides do agree on is the importance of human rights in addressing the issue. The right to freedom of speech, the right to choose what to believe, and ultimately the right to have treatment provided to you if that’s what you feel could save your life – a right that, whichever side you fall on, far too many are still denied.