- (Note on testing and HIV mutations: As Dr. Robert Strecker,
MD made clear in 1988, HIV has the mutating potential of 9000 to the 4th
power. Not all these mutations will be fatal forms of the virus. Further,
a tiny fraction of the populace has recently been discovered to a genetic
flaw, or 'immunity,' which prevents HIV from being able to successfully
invade the body's cells. These two factors, among others, explain why
some people can test HIV positive and still not develop full blown AIDS.
Conversely, the common HIV antibody tests only screen for a few types
of the virus. With so many mutations of HIV possible, it is understandable
how some might test 'negative' but still be infected with a mutated, virulent
form of the virus which is harmful to their body's immune system. -ed)
- By David France
- Christine Maggiore is a different kind of AIDS activist"one
who tells people to forget safe sex and stop taking their lifesaving drugs.
Why? Epidemic skeptic: HIV positive Christine Maggiore, holding her 8 year
old son, says HIV isn't caused by infectious agents
- NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE -
One sweltering California afternoon a few weeks ago, Christine Maggiore
was sitting in her cramped office, still jet-lagged from the long flight
home from South Africa, where she,d attended the International AIDS Conference.
- She hadn't yet found time to answer the "hundreds
and hundreds, perhaps literally thousands of e-mail messages she,d received
from people she,d met there who were looking for AIDS literature or doctor
referrals, or simply wanting to pat her on the back. "All your work
and dedication is appreciated!!! a typical message declared. She doesn't
know when she,ll find time to catch up"her whole life is behind schedule
because of her AIDS work. "My fiancé and I have been trying
to find time to get married for years! she says.
- But Maggiore, who heads Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives
in Burbank, Calif., is not your typical AIDS activist. In South Africa,
some scientists spit nasty epithets at her. Protesters marching outside
the meeting hall threatened to plug her and her galvanized followers with
bullets. Why? Because Maggiore takes the strange contrarian stance that
HIV, which has been blamed in the deaths of 18.8 million people worldwide,
doesn't cause AIDS at all. She exhorts people to stop taking their medications
and stop worrying about spreading their virus.
- The Extremists versus the AIDS Experts
- But Maggiore's influence here and abroad is swelling.
The singer Nina Hagen wrote a song for her, and Esai Morales, the actor,
is a big funder. The platinum-selling alternative rock band Foo Fighters
promotes Maggiore's ideas on its Web site. And in South Africa, Maggiore
met privately with South African President Thabo Mbeki, who endorses many
of her beliefs. Mbeki's call for more research into whether HIV causes
AIDS dominated headlines from the important biennial meeting. In response,
5,000 flabbergasted scientists signed a declaration calling the laboratory
evidence "clear-cut, exhaustive, and unambiguous.
- Such consensus doesn't impress Maggiore, a bright and
compelling former garment executive with no scientific training or college
degree. Through emotional newspaper columns, e-mail postings and lectures
in such disparate places as the University of Miami School of Medicine
and the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network in Harlem, she continues
to try to pick apart the scientific literature, a strategy that especially
appeals to people with a beef against the establishment. "We,re not
saying that anybody is 100 percent correct or incorrect on this issue,
Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel told NEWSWEEK. "Simply, there's information
out there that is being blocked out.
- Maggiore is convinced that the HIV doesn't cause AIDS.
No medical journal has ever proved to her it is dangerous. She calls standard
HIV antibody tests so oversensitive that they can show positive "if
you,ve had a flu shot or if you,ve ever been pregnant (the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention disagree), and she cobbles together reams
of footnotes, anecdotes and package inserts to prove it.
- Then how does she explain all the deaths that have marked
the pandemic? Here's where her argument takes a conspiratorial turn. In
Africa, despite what health authorities say, people are simply not dying
more than before, she asserts. And she thinks the 420,000 Americans who
have died of AIDS are victims of the prescription drugs they hoped would
save them. Or perhaps they died from recreational drugs. Or maybe they
succumbed to "a profound fear of AIDS itself. "We,re not saying
people haven't died of what is called AIDS,, Maggiore explained one afternoon
in the sunny Burbank home she shares with her fiancé, a 31-year-old
video editor named Robin Scovill, and her son. "We,re just asking
what is at the core of this incredible human tragedy. And by looking at
other avenues, might we better resolve this? "Christine is putting
lives in jeopardy. - SANDRA THURMAN White House AIDS policy director
- There is no way to know how many patients she has persuaded
to abandon their medications or condoms, but Maggiore's detractors can
barely contain their anger. "Many people will die because they will
go untreated, says Dr. Luc Montagnier, the co-discoverer of HIV. White
House AIDS policy director Sandra Thurman says bluntly, "Christine
is putting lives in jeopardy.
- Disbelievers"flat earth types who fervently doubt
the conclusions of science"have been around since the Enlightenment.
But they are staging a resurgence today, partly in reaction to the unparalleled
role science plays in society. Disbelievers fear Big Science the way millennialists
feared Y2K. Fragments of contrarian evidence are enough to shake their
faith in everything from water fluoridation to global-warming statistics,
childhood vaccine programs to the artificial sweetener aspartame, the Holocaust
to evolution. Huge parcels of the World Wide Web are devoted to such exposes.
"We,re at a moment for a lot of things where skepticism becomes a
dogma, says Michael Shermer, author of a book about the antiscience backlash,
"Why People Believe Weird Things.
- But what's in it for them? "The basis of denial
is a need to escape something that is terribly uncomfortable, says Boston
College psychology professor Joseph Tecce, who has studied Holocaust deniers
and AIDS dissenters. "If something is horrific, I might want to pretend
it doesn't exist.<modules/Aids_In_Africa/AIDs_in_Africa_front.asp
- Christine Maggiore's horrific event came on Feb. 24,
1992, when, she says, a routine blood test came back positive for HIV.
She was 36 years old, single and a partner in a successful clothing wholesaler.
A former boyfriend also tested positive. "I was mortified, she says.
"According to the conventional wisdom, I had just foolishly and irrevocably
ruined my entire life.
- Maggiore was not immediately a disbeliever. Initially,
the oldest child of a Los Angeles advertising executive sought the advice
of doctors and planned to start treatment. But some scientific principles
of the disease never added up to her. For one thing, she felt fine"and
still does. How could she have a killer virus? "There was this empirical
data from my own body, she says. "I was ridiculously healthy.
- Ultimately she discovered the work of Berkeley virologist
Peter Duesberg, whose belief that AIDS is caused by lifestyle choices like
promiscuity and drug use rather than infectious agents have long been dismissed
by his peers. One spring evening in 1994, as she was sitting on a panel
discussing AIDS prevention, it finally struck Maggiore that she no longer
believed in the epidemic. "Being a practical person, it didn't seem
to me after investigating this that there were good reasons for me to live
my life as if I were dying, she says.
- Now, nothing can dissuade her. Take the 1999 CDC report
detailing the wild successes of protease inhibitors, the new class of AIDS
drugs introduced in 1996. The study correlates a huge drop-off in classic
AIDS-related infections with data on how many of the new drugs were prescribed.
"Prescriptions don't mean people are actually taking the drugs, she
objected. "Do you know how many people flush their drugs down the
toilet? (In fact, she says, the wholesale return to health is a direct
result of that protest, in bathrooms across America.)
- Today Maggiore is the most prominent foe of what she
calls "the HIV equals AIDS equals death paradigm, having sold or given
away 28,500 copies of her self-published booklet since 1995, in addition
to the copies in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese.
She founded Alive & Well, which has spun off chapters around the globe
and is affiliated with dozens of like-minded groups representing perhaps
tens of thousands of followers.
- Their message has resonated among a number of gay men
who, exhausted by 20 years of medical vigilance and daily toxic drug regimens,
are increasingly receptive to Maggiore's exhortation to "live in wellness...
without fear of AIDS. And they have reinvigorated long-simmering AIDS conspiracy
theories. According to a 1995 survey of 1,000 African-American churchgoers,
one third believed HIV was concocted by the government for racial genocide.
When she spoke before a crowded room in Harlem in 1998, spellbound members
of the audience likened her to the abolitionists, interrupting her with
cries of "John Brown lives!
- "If you told me five years ago I would be promoting
the notion that HIV does not cause AIDS, I would have said you were nuts.
I believed adamantly that HIV was a killer and these drugs were saving
lives, says Michael Bellefountaine, 34, a friend of Maggiore's who decided
against taking anti-HIV medication years ago. Now he attributes his survival
to being drug-free. Last month he attended a protest in San Francisco and
chanted, "HIV is a lie! It's toxic pills that made them die!
- AIDS educators already hold Maggiore and her acolytes
responsible for an upswing in new infections. San Francisco authorities
just announced that new HIV cases in 1999 were nearly twice as high as
in 1997. "People are focusing on the wrong thing. They,re focusing
on conspiracies rather than protecting themselves, rather than getting
tested and seeking out appropriate care and treatment, says Stephen Thomas,
who directs the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Minority Health.
- HIV renegades sometimes seem as if their main goal is
mayhem, not constructive discourse. For instance, the San Francisco chapter
of ACT UP, once a major force lobbying for more money for AIDS research,
is now run by dissenters who stage protests against other AIDS leaders"regularly
bathing them in cat-box litter or spit. On Aug. 9, police charged two ACT
UP members with assault and battery for allegedly striking city health
department director Mitchell H. Katz and covering him with Silly String
during a public meeting. Similar antics now prevail among a half-dozen
ACT UP branches. "They,re crazy, says Larry Kramer, who founded ACT
UP in 1987. "They,re undoing all we,ve fought for.
- Picking over a black-bean wrap at her kitchen counter
recently, Maggiore described herself simply as a person who asks questions
others are overlooking. The fact that she provokes hostility only emboldens
her. She sees only intolerance and recalcitrance among her detractors"they
"smack of parental authority and religious authority, she said. Her
brother Steven, 41, calls her a modern-day Copernicus.
- But she soon made it clear that her disregard for HIV
is not just an intellectual gambit when her talkative 3-year-old son, Charlie,
wandered into the kitchen after a midday nap. She talked about how she
conceived him naturally and gave birth without drugs routinely given to
prevent transmission. She continues to breast-feed him today, according
to the family's pediatrician. Her family supports her in this, even though
HIV can be transmitted through breast milk and judges have charged mothers
in similar cases with child endangerment.
- Maggiore and Scovill, Charlie's father, say they,ve never
been curious to test the child for HIV (Scovill does not know his own status).
Their pediatrician is not as sanguine. "I would not be opposed to
testing his blood, admits Dr. Paul Fleiss, who says the boy has been very
healthy. "But she is.
- "He's a perfectly healthy little boy, says Scovill,
bending to offer his son a macaroon. Charlie was skeptical. "They,re
really good, the father insisted patiently. "And for some reason they
decrease viral load! With that, both parents had a good laugh at the silly
AIDS goblin. Such is the power of belief.
- © 2000 Newsweek, Inc.
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