Welcomes Non-partisan Critical Thinking in HIV Discussion

Published in the Austin Chronicle in April 2005. I was the subject of a rant, and asked if I could reply. They very kindly obliged. Blogged it here

Dear Editor,

I read with concern Sandy Bartlett’s summary dismissals of my work, and the work of anyone saying anything critical about HIV tests, AIDS drugs, or the state of AIDS research [“About AIDS,” April 22].

Bartlett has stated that anyone having a contrary view – and this includes physicians in the field – is simply a “denialist.”

For the record, that’s not a term I use to describe myself. I am a journalist who digs into the medical literature in order to bring to light what the medical industry is not comfortable telling us plainly. I’m not here to make the industry feel good about cutting corners, taking advantage of public ignorance, or putting dangerous products on the market.

I’m here to try to keep the public discussion open, lively, and honest. And contrary to your assertions, I welcome nonpartisan critical thinking into the discussion.

Speaking of critical thinking, I am absolutely amazed, perplexed, and disheartened by the near-total lack of it on the part of many AIDS activists and much of the liberal media when it comes to the pills, tests, and research coming down from various pharmaceutical-run government institutions.

For example, here’s an AIDS story that was ignored for more than a year in the liberal U.S. media. In early 2004, I broke the story of Incarnation Children’s Center, a New York City orphanage for HIV-positive children of drug abusers, who were being used in government and pharmaceutical clinical trials without consent. (“Orphans on Trial,” NY Press, 2004, www.nypress.com/print.cfm?content_id=10614.)

I have been attacked in print by hardened AIDS activists for bringing the story to light – despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Human Research Protections voted that these trials were conducted unethically.

Kids in ICC were and are being pumped daily through surgically inserted tubes with a regimen of drugs that would peel paint off a car; drugs like AZT and Nevirapine; drugs which, by law, state at the top of their labels that they may very well cause the death of the person taking them due to blood cell death, skin death, or liver failure.

Many activists defend the use of these particular drugs, despite their toxicity, because some studies claim that they prevent transmission of HIV slightly better than no drugs at all – and I mean slightly. But how can you claim to be an AIDS activist while turning a blind eye to the use of orphans in AZT trials? Trials in which raw drugs are pumped into the open abdomens of children who have no one to speak for them?

From my point of view, AIDS activism has lost its way. Instead of demanding transparency in research, they too often act like mindless cheerleaders, allowing big pharma to keep dangerous drugs in the market, while it actively ignores or suppresses research into viable alternatives, like micronutrient studies, which show similar or better results in clinical trials than AZT and Nevirapine, without the threat of fatal anemia or muscle wasting.

For the record, I would never take AZT or Nevirapine out of somebody’s mouth if they thought it was helping them. But I have spoken with and interviewed dozens upon dozens of gay men, pregnant women, and growing children who test HIV positive and who desperately want alternatives.

They are not afraid of letting some competition into medicine. They are not afraid to debate the science of HIV.

By the way, this is precisely what Bartlett calls “denialism” – debate. Open, unrestricted debate.

I invite the public to read, investigate, and weigh-in on the questions that I am interested in:

  • Can we be doing better for pregnant women who test HIV positive than old failed cancer drugs like AZT?
  • Can big pharma handle a little competition?
  • And can we afford to turn researchers with good ideas away because they threaten to put the manufacturers of profitable drugs out of business?

Back to you,

Liam Scheff

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