For those who are interested. A sensationalist piece like Farber's is just
what cheap media loves. It was picked up by the New York Post last week,
too. Maia Szalavitz wrote a good critique for NewsWatch online:
A popular magazine gives dissident views on AIDS a dangerous footing
By Maia Szalavitz
March 14, 2000
A highly misleading and extremely biased article is stirring controversy in the AIDS community. Published in the March issue of the American "lad" magazine Gear, it claims that the "cocktail" of anti-HIV medications currently in use is killing more people than it helps. The story has also been picked up - and expanded on - by this week's New York Press and on an ABC News Web site.
What Gear magazine does not disclose, however, is that the writer, Celia Farber, has been an official member of a group of so-called AIDS dissidents - who believe AIDS is caused by drugs, not HIV - for nearly 10 years.
And the article itself contains so many factual errors and distortions it is hard to know where to start when attempting to untangle them.
For one, it completely misrepresents the overall picture of the effect of the cocktail (called HAART, for Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy) on the HIV-infected community. Says San Francisco-based AIDS reporter Bruce Mirken, "I have been around a large number of people with HIV throughout the '80s. From 1988-95, I attended, on average, a funeral a month. In the last four years, it's been one a year and I still know a large number of people with AIDS."
Farber writes in Gear, "on a national level, AIDS deaths began dropping at the end of 1994, at least three years before the drugs hit the market, a fact no one disputes." But numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tell a different story. In 1994, there were 49,442 deaths. In 1995, there were 49,895 - but in 1996, there were 37,221 and by 1997, this had declined to 21, 445.
Mirken points out that the first protease inhibitor (an important part of HAART) was approved in 1995, and that the largest drop in deaths occurred when the drugs were widely used. "I'll dispute her 'fact,'" says Mirken, in response to the last part of Farber's sentence.
Farber also claims that "most people on cocktail therapy can barely function." Says Mirken, "I know dozens of people who are more than functioning. I know some who have had some toxicities, but they dealt with them by switching drugs. I also know a lot of people who could barely function because of AIDS who are functioning well now (thanks to the therapy)."
Farber draws her accounts of cocktail horror stories from a group of AIDS activists in San Francisco [see history of so-called: "ACTUP"/SanFrancisco] who don't believe that HIV causes AIDS, and who oppose all anti-HIV medication and even some medications taken to prevent opportunistic infectio