5,000 Doctors State Evidence Overwhelming HIV Causes AIDS
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - Overwhelming evidence shows that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS, more than 5,000 leading scientists, doctors and medical experts said on Saturday.
In a document published in the scientific journal Nature, Nobel prize winners, renowned AIDS experts and researchers signed the so-called Durban Declaration.
The move was an effort to stem controversy in South Africa over whether the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of the disease that has infected 33 million people worldwide.
``The evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV-1 or HIV-2 is clear-cut, exhaustive and unambiguous, meeting the highest standards of science,'' the scientists said.
``The data fulfil exactly the same criteria as for other viral diseases, such as polio, measles and smallpox.''
The scientists said denying that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS will cost countless lives by hampering blood screening efforts, curtailing the use of condoms to control its spread and limiting the use of drugs to cut mother-to-child transmission.
Scientists from the U.S. National Academy of Science, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, Germany's Max Planck institutes, the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the Royal Society of London and the National Institute of Virology in South Africa signed the document.
Consternation Among Scientists
The document, released just a week before the start of the 13th International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, was designed to resolve controversy over the source of the disease that has infected one in three adults in Botswana and 24.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has been criticized for his position on the disease, his refusal to give pregnant women the antiviral drug AZT and his doubts about the effectiveness of anti-AIDS drugs.
He has also courted controversy by including researchers like American scientist Peter Duesberg -- who contends that AIDS is not caused by the HIV virus -- on a presidential panel investigating the disease.
Mbeki has defended the views of Duesberg, who believes AIDS is caused by a breakdown of the immune system triggered by recreational drugs and anti-AIDS drugs and is spread by poor living conditions.
The 5,000 scientists supported their position by saying that most people with the HIV virus, if not treated, show signs of AIDS within five to 10 years. HIV can be identified in the blood by detecting antibodies, gene sequences or viral loads.
Laboratory tests show the HIV virus infects blood cells called CD4 lymphocytes, which become depleted when full-blown AIDS develops.
As further evidence, the scientists said anti-AIDS drugs that block HIV replication have reduced AIDS mortality by more than 80 percent.
To tackle the AIDS pandemic, which the scientists say shows no sign of ending, everyone must first recognize and accept that HIV is the enemy.
``It is unfortunate that a few vocal people continue to deny the evidence. This position will cost countless lives,'' the scientists said.
``Research, not myths, will lead to the development of more effective and cheaper treatments, and, it is hoped, a vaccine. But for now, emphasis must be placed on preventing sexual transmission.''
Some scientists have threatened to boycott the six-day conference in Durban that begins on July 9 because of South Africa's controversial view on the cause of AIDS.

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