World AIDS Conference Pushes Questionable Assumptions Omits Important Findings
By Christine Maggiore



Dear Christine,
I followed a lot of the news from the 14th International AIDS Conference that was held in Barcelona, Spain this past July. Most of it seemed like the same old story — there’s no cure, a vaccine is years away, the AIDS problem is worse than ever — but some of the reports struck me as compelling, like the stories about millions of African AIDS orphans. At the same time, I know from experience that mainstream sources don’t give all the facts.

Why are there so many AIDS orphans, AIDS babies, and AIDS mothers in Africa but not here? Everyone says it’s the effect of AIDS drugs that people here take, but I wonder. Before I decide what to believe, I’d like to know what you think.

Dear RS,
I appreciate your interest in taking a closer look at news on the international AIDS conference. As you may know, one of the primary functions of the conference is to generate press coverage of AIDS, and like any well-planned media event, the issues unveiled are designed to promote the goals of the conference sponsors — AIDS drug manufacturers and AIDS organizations.

To assure beneficial media reports, all of the drug companies and many of the AIDS groups involved hire public relations strategists to “place news.” In fact, a great deal of what we regard as news in general is little more than carefully constructed PR. (For more information on how media reports and public opinion are shaped by PR firms, see John Stauber’s book “Toxic Sludge is Good for You”)

The international AIDS conference provides a striking example of successful PR placement. During the event, the media inundates us with press releases thinly disguised as news. We learn only what the conference sponsors want us to know, all of which is designed to secure greater emotional and fiscal support for AIDS and AIDS drugs. Any information that opposes or jeopardizes these goals is absent from mainstream coverage.

For example, there was no mention in the media of the Conference for Life that took place right across the street from this year’s International AIDS Conference. While hundreds of naturally healthy HIV positives gathered with doctors and researchers to describe how people can live in wellness without toxic AIDS drugs, only the official conference news emphasizing illness, death, and costly pharmaceuticals made the papers. Although the media devoted much attention to protestor demands for “life-saving AIDS drugs,” they failed to disclose that such protests are usually funded by AIDS drug manufacturers, or that drug companies have hired activists to “attack” their exhibits at previous AIDS conferences.

Swept under the conference carpet was a new study in the Journal of Virology demonstrating how two of the most widely prescribed AIDS drugs actually destroy healthy uninfected T-cells (AIDS is said to be the result of T-cell depletion), along with an abstract presented by mainstream AIDS experts that showed more patients are dying of AIDS drug-induced anemia and liver failure than of AIDS.

Regarding your specific concerns, the numbers of AIDS orphans cited in conference news reports are based largely on estimates and projections rather than on actual cases of parentless children. Also, the definition of orphan varies from country to country and among the various organizations that produce the number. Many count orphans in a manner you might consider misleading.

Some nations and AIDS groups allows registration of any child under age 15 with one absent parent — absence due to migratory work, military service, divorce, or death from any cause — as an AIDS orphan. UNAIDS counts AIDS orphans as children under 15 who've lost their mother to AIDS. However, they may use a lose collection of clinical symptoms to define AIDS: fever, weight loss, cough and diarrhea — no HIV test necessary. These same symptoms are common to malaria, TB, malnutrition, starvation, parasitic infection and the effects of consuming unsanitary water, thus inflating both AIDS numbers and the number of “AIDS orphans.”

Also, since the average African family includes five children, it’s probable that before the youngest reaches 18, one parent may die due to malnutrition, lack of basic medical care, endemic disease, as a casualty war or ethnic conflict, in an accident, or for other reasons. Further, parents in Africa and other parts of the world without the means to feed their children often leave them at orphanages where they have a better chance of survival. Since the media did not investigate or explain the AIDS orphan press releases, the public accepts the sponsors’ spin as the full story.

To answer the second part of your question, the number of AIDS babies in America has been declining steadily since 1992, which is two years before drugs thought to prevent “mother to child transmission” were available for use. Last year in the U.S., less than 200 babies were diagnosed with AIDS.

Expectant mothers in Africa and other developing regions of the world are singled out for testing with an HIV test known to generate false positives when used during pregnancy. While this test is not acceptable for a positive diagnosis here in the US, it suffices in many countries and generates the alarming numbers of heterosexual AIDS cases reported in the media. Having antibodies to TB, malaria, leprosy, and other common health challenges that plague the African continent and impoverished nations also cause false positive HIV tests, further increasing the already questionable numbers of global AIDS cases.

For more answers to your questions, visit the “What About Africa?” section at Alive & Well’s website (  ).  

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