May 4, 2000
Toronto Globe and Mail
When junk science turns lethal
by Margaret Wente
Dr. Mark Wainberg is taking a certain amount of flak these days for taking on the HIV deniers. The renowned Montreal researcher is president of the International Aids Society, and he thinks these people are deeply irresponsible. He wouldn't mind seeing a few of them silenced. "These people are doing harm," he told me. "Perhaps there might once have been good ground to dispute the linkage between HIV and AIDS. It's indisputable now."
In North America, the HIV dissidents are a hardy group consisting of two or three scientists (whom no one funds), a small band of wishful thinkers, and a Canadian medical journalist named Nicholas Regush. Mr. Regush has a new book, The Virus Within, which claims that another virus, not HIV, is the probable cause of AIDS. He believes that treatment with AZT is useless, even toxic, and he encourages HIV victims to throw away their medicine. He also claims that the entire scientific establishment, which he brands "the New Gestapo," ruthlessly suppresses opposing views like his.
Dr. Wainberg and other crusaders against the terrible AIDS scourge haven't wasted much breath on the dissidents until now. They've trusted in science, not rebuttal, to win the day. But now, the stakes are dramatically higher than ever before. The stakes are the lives of millions, and the fate of nations, because the dissidents have found a believer where it matters most.
The foremost critic of AIDS science in the world today is South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki. Mr. Mbeki has asserted his government's right to resist "the superimposition of Western experience on African reality." He has personally consulted the American scientists who think the HIV link is a myth and the epidemic is overstated. He has stopped distributing AZT to pregnant women because he thinks it's toxic. The army has stopped using it, too.
The president's supporters include influential African journalists as well as the right-wing Boerestaat Party, which recently applauded his efforts to "investigate the biggest hoax of the century."
Meantime, AIDS is poised to devastate South Africa, which has one of the highest infection rates in the world. More than 10 per cent of the population is infected with HIV, and 3.5 million of them will probably die in the next decade. They will include a disproportionate number of nurses, engineers, and other well-educated, highly productive people.
Throughout subsaharan Africa, 23 million people are now infected. Not far behind: Southeast Asia, India, China, Latin America, the Caribbean. Those who compare AIDS to the Holocaust, in its scope and human devastation, are correct.
Now let's return to Mr. Regush, a former medical reporter with the Montreal Gazette who portrays himself as a crusading investigative journalist. In fact, he has often made a living as a medical conspiracy the