with Christine Maggiore



Dear Christine, Your September/October Questioning AIDS column was extremely one-sided and very irresponsible. I see no identifying credentials after your name indicating any expertise in the area of AIDS. Statistics do not support your opinions about the anti-viral AIDS drugs. These drugs improve longevity and quality of life. I have been working with the HIV community in San Diego for the last five years as an acupuncturist and have seen these drugs save lives. You remove the hope that is found in a course of therapy or action. People take what they read to heart. Do you want them to cite your column as the reason their friend or family member died because they were terrified into not seeking help? Some fairness and inclusion of facts is important in journalism.

                                                            L. Mitchell Lehman, LAc
                                                            Pacific Center of Health

Dear L. Mitchell,
Thanks for taking the time to write and express your concerns. I will address the specific issues raised in your letter, but should you have further questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

“Questioning AIDS” provides alternative perspectives on HIV and AIDS using information derived from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and peer-reviewed medical journals like The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine. I offer interested readers important facts that are not widely publicized and a unique forum for much needed scrutiny of currents beliefs about HIV and AIDS. For people who have tested HIV positive, my column may introduce them to new, life-affirming ways of viewing their test result and serve as a resource for data that allows them to make truly informed decisions about their health.

You wrote that this column appears “extremely one-sided.” I agree. My job is to present the other side of AIDS news, a side that most people are unaware exists. I believe that if you scrutinize mainstream media coverage of AIDS you will find little in the way of “balanced reporting”, and that the scales are tipped in favor the AIDS establishment point of view. For example, do you know of any reports that mention the fact that more than half of all of new AIDS diagnoses in the US since 1993 have been given to people who are not ill? Have you ever seen an article that explains why worldwide estimates for AIDS deaths are usually 15 to 20 times greater than the actual global total for all AIDS cases ever diagnosed (which according to the most recent WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record is less than 2 million cases—many of those counted among people who remain alive and well—in 20 years)? Have you ever heard that the number of Americans who test HIV positive has not increased once since the introduction of the test in 1985? Can you name an AIDS organization that advises their HIV positive clients that not taking pharmaceutical AIDS treatments is a viable and widely-practiced option? Or one that puts footnotes and references in their promotional literature? I would love to see the journalistic fairness that you mention we need in everyday reports on AIDS. I know many of us would feel better about the tax dollars and donations we give to AIDS organizations if they shared objective data regarding HIV and the anti-HIV drugs they promote.

With regard to your statement that “hope is found in a course of therapy or action,” I agree and urge you to consider that many HIV positives (including myself) find that objective research and the pursuit of good health are legitimate and very rewarding courses of action. While AIDS groups and the media generally limit our choices to toxic, experimental chemicals or inevitable illness, a broad spectrum of well-documented information expands these choices to include living in wellness without health-compromising drugs and without chronic fear and despair.

Contrary to your experiences with drugs like the new “AIDS cocktails,” I have found no evidence in the scientific literature demonstrating that the new protease inhibitor combinations increase longevity or improve the quality of life. As the drug advertisements themselves note:

“At this time there is no evidence that Ziagen will help you live longer or have fewer medical problems associated with HIV or AIDS.”

“It is not yet known whether Crixivan will extend your life or reduce your chances of getting other illnesses associated with HIV.”

“At present, there are no results from controlled clinical trials evaluating the effects of Viramune . . . such as the incidence of opportunistic infections or survival”.

“There have been no clinical trials conducted with Combivir.”

(Glaxo-Wellcome ad for Ziagen, December 1998 MG-001; Merck ad for Crixivan, Merck and Co, Inc. 1998 99-4084; Roxane ad for Viramune, July 1999, RX-2140; Glaxo-Wellcome ad for Combivir, March 1999 all from July 1999 issue POZ magazine).

The one study of protease inhibitors that is used to claim that there are lower mortality rates among HIV positives treated with these drugs was terminated after less than six months — before statistically significant results could be obtained — and no placebo control comparing untreated HIV positives was used, and the results mentioned for the study are for only a small fraction of the patients involved. (Hammer, S et al, September 1997, New England Journal of Medicine 337:725-733) Because of this, the pharmaceutical ads that use this report to declare that their new drugs are “proven to help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives” are required to simultaneously admit that “because the study ended early, there was insufficient data to determine [the drug’s] statistical impact on survival.” (Merck ad for Crixivan, c 1999, 99-4084 910 (508) CRX, A&U magazine, July 1999)

In fact, the efficacy of these drugs is not even measured in terms of actual health benefits, but by the surrogate marker “viral load,” a laboratory test that does not correlate with health or illness, does not isolate or measure actual virus, and has not been approved by the FDA for diagnostic use. (Levy, J 1996, AIDS Surrogate Markers: Is There Truth in Numbers?, JAMA Vol 276, p 161-162; Piatak, M et al, 1993, Science 259:-1749-53) As the test’s manufacturer states, viral load “is not intended to be used as a screening test for HIV or as a diagnostic test to confirm the presence of HIV.” (Amplicor HIV-1 Monitor Test US:83088)

With regard to your comment that “statistics do not support” my assertions about the new AIDS drugs not causing the recent declines in AIDS, please see the CDC HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report year-end 1997 (page 25 figure 6). This shows that AIDS cases began dropping in the second quarter of January 1993 — two years and ten months before the first protease inhibitor drug was approved for use. Also, a careful examination of the CDC’s 1998 year-end report (Deaths in Persons with AIDS) reveals that decreases in AIDS fatalities also precede the introduction of the new drugs by three years. This information from the CDC conflicts with your suggestion that new drug therapies are responsible for decreasing AIDS cases and deaths. Also in conflict are recent news reports on the small numbers of HIV positive Americans taking these drugs — less than 10% according to former CDC director Dr. James Curran — the failures of these drugs to resolve AIDS, and their tremendous toxicity and adverse effects. As Dr. Michael Sag of the University of Alabama — the top AIDS research center in the country — lamented in Esquire magazine, “Failures are occurring left and right. Patients are not dying of traditionally defined AIDS illness. They’re just wasting and dying . . . We don’t know what we are doing.”

Like you, I have been working with the HIV community for many years. I began as a public speaker and educator for AIDS Project Los Angeles in 1992, shortly after receiving my positive diagnosis. That same year, I was elected to the founding board of Women at Risk and was asked to appear in public presentations on behalf of LA Shanti Foundation. I left these volunteer positions in 1995 to begin my own AIDS organization after discovering these groups were not providing people with all the facts. In 1996 I wrote a booklet “What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?” The third edition book is currently used as course curriculum at several U.S. universities and the fourth edition has been translated into Spanish, Italian, Japanese, French and Portuguese.

While we may have different approaches to resolving AIDS, you and I are in complete agreement on two ideas expressed in your letter: “propaganda and opinions are not useful,” and that “fairness and inclusion of fact is important in journalism.” That’s what this column is about —cutting through the propaganda and unfounded opinions and providing people with a fair share of essential facts. Wouldn’t you agree that people faced with life and death decisions have a right to consider all available facts?

If you ever wish to engage in a public dialogue on the concerns you raise or any other aspect of HIV and AIDS, I and/or members of the Alive and Well advisory board are always available. Thank you again for taking the time to write.

ALIVE & WELL Alternative AIDS Information Network (the organization formerly known as HEAL Los Angeles), offers free information, free meetings and classes challenging the HIV-AIDS paradigm. Call toll-free for details (877) 92-ALIVE.

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