The Durban Declaration
A Declaration by Scientists and Physicians Affirming HIV is the Cause of AIDS
It's back: the old, discredited argument that HIV is not the cause of AIDS has begun to capture headlines again.
In earlier years, the challenge posed by so-called "AIDS dissidents" who did not believe that HIV was the cause of AIDS occasionally served a useful purpose. For instance, in the 1980s, the field of human retrovirology was relatively new and could not explain why HIV appeared to be "latent" for about ten years between the time of infection and the onset of AIDS-related symptoms. Dissidents pointed out this shortcoming of the medical model of AIDS and prompted researchers to make the important discovery that HIV is not latent after infection but rather in a long, slow battle with the immune system.
Such advances in scientific knowledge, combined with the clinical success of combination antiretroviral therapies since the mid-1990s, convinced many lingering skeptics that HIV was indeed the cause of AIDS. However, small but highly vocal groups of dissidents have persisted. In the United States, some groups of dissidents hail from the political right, where they find it useful to perpetuate the notion that people with HIV/AIDS are the victims of their own behavioral excesses and not of the actions of a virus. Other dissident, including several break-away factions of the protest group ACT UP, hail from the political left and view the continued emphasis on HIV/AIDS as a way to stigmatize the sexuality of gay men and the substance use of injecting drug users. The media, with their emphasis on journalistic objectivity and on "telling both sides of the story," as well as a tendency toward sensationalism, have drastically amplified the size and importance of the dissident factions by giving them an unwarranted amount of attention.
Most recently, AIDS dissidents have received a boost from statements made by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and who went so far as to create a commission with equal representation from dissidents and proponents of the mainstream consensus. In some ways, Mbeki's inquiry into the nature of HIV/AIDS drew from a skepticism about the applicability of Western solutions to African realities. In particular, Mbeki noted major differences in epidemiology between AIDS in the developed and the developing world, and also noted that the use of costly antiretroviral therapies might never be an affordable or viable approach to combating AIDS in deeply impoverished countries. A veteran of the African National Congress's battle against apartheid in South Africa, Mbeki was also skeptical of the wholesale importing of "Western models" and urged a top-to-bottom rethinking of the nature of AIDS in Africa.
At best, Mbeki's skepticism may provoke a useful re-thinking and re-conceptualization of the battle against African AIDS. At worst, however, his extremely influential position on the continent may start to roll back two decades of progress in education about the causes of AIDS, the nature of HIV, the urgent need for safer sex practices, and the development of an effective vaccine against HIV. Concerned that the presence of the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa last July might appear to be an implicit endorsement of Mbeki's skepticism, a group of scientists and medical practitioners drafted "The Durban Declaration" and gathered the signatures of 5,018 prominent figures to reiterate the fundamental reality that HIV is the cause of AIDS. On the following pages, the Durban Declaration is reprinted in its entirety.
-- Raymond A. Smith, Ph.D.
Back to the October 2000 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.