Dr. Mathilde Krim Refutes AIDS Denialists on ABC's "20/20"

On ABC's "20/20" prime-time news program on August 24, 2001, Dr. Mathilde Krim, amfAR's Founding Chairman and Chairman of the Board, offered a clear and compelling response to the small but vocal group of AIDS denialists who argue -- incorrectly -- that HIV does not cause AIDS. Interviewed by Connie Chung, Dr. Krim underscored the danger that AIDS denialists pose to preventing the spread of HIV and to amfAR's work. "To see others on spurious, disingenuous arguments fight us and undermine what we are doing is very, very difficult to accept -- and, frankly, offensive," she said.

"The [AIDS denial] theory has been so thoroughly repudiated by the science that it now resembles more fantasy than hypothesis."

-- GQ Magazine

The view that HIV does not cause AIDS is rejected by all but a handful of scientists who have done little or no research with AIDS patients and has been repeatedly debunked in scientific journals ranging from Science to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Last year, over 5,000 physicians and scientists from around the world signed a statement known as the Durban Declaration, which was published in the July 6, 2000, issue of Nature and affirmed that the evidence supporting the link between HIV and AIDS is "clear-cut, exhaustive and unambiguous. . . . It is unfortunate that a few vocal people continue to deny the evidence. This position will cost countless lives."

The evidence that HIV causes AIDS is overwhelming:

  • HIV infection correlates with epidemic AIDS.

  • Numerous laboratory, clinical research, and epidemiological studies have shown significant correlation between levels of HIV production and viral load and disease prognosis.

  • Simian immunodeficiency virus, which is quite similar to HIV, causes AIDS in animals (and HIV-1 itself can cause immune deficiency and AIDS in chimpanzees).

  • Anti-HIV drugs have succeeded in reducing AIDS-related deaths by more than 80% in countries where they are available.

Also in July 2000, amfAR placed a full-page statement in The New York Times that took direct aim at those who continue to dispute the fact that HIV causes AIDS. Timed to coincide with the start of the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, and signed and supported by over 500 researchers and physicians, the amfAR-sponsored statement targeted those who might be persuaded by dissident claims to discontinue HIV/AIDS treatments. Please see the PDF for the full text of the statement that appeared in The New York Times.

"The evidence that HIV causes AIDS is as good as the evidence that polio is caused by a polio virus and measles by a measles virus."

-- Dr. Mathilde Krim

Ultimately, AIDS denialists are promoting misinformation that encourages people to ignore treatment and prevention messages that can save lives and prevent the further spread of HIV. The number of new HIV infections in this country remains constant at between 40,000 and 50,000 annually, and the recent National HIV Prevention Conference convened in Atlanta by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted several disturbing trends:

  • After dropping sharply in the mid-1990s, the number of U.S. AIDS cases and AIDS-related deaths remained stable between mid-1998 and mid-2000, underscoring the need for early HIV testing and expanded access to prevention and treatment services. As CDC director Helene Gayle observes, "The latest data suggest that the era of dramatic declines is over [and] there are a number of signs indicating that our progress in fighting the disease is in serious jeopardy."

  • There is evidence of continued increases in sexual risk behavior among both HIV-positive and HIV-negative men who have sex with men (MSM) across the U.S. A recent six-city study conducted by the CDC found that young MSM ages 23-29 are becoming HIV infected at annual rates comparable to those seen among some populations of gay men in the mid-1980s. Infection rates are especially high among African American MSM, indicating the need for targeted prevention outreach.

  • While representing less than one-quarter of U.S. women, African American and Latina women account for 82% of new HIV infections in this country. Injection drug use has accounted directly or indirectly for between 55% and 60% of all reported AIDS cases among black and Latina women. In addition, a recent finding that 17% of young minority MSMs also engage in sex with women highlights the role that bisexuality may be playing in placing women at risk of HIV.

  • New research shows that significant numbers of HIV-positive people go undiagnosed for up to a decade, forgoing life-prolonging treatment and potentially infecting others. It is estimated that half of all Americans with HIV have not been tested and do not know they are carrying the virus.

Finally, it should be noted that some denialists not only claim that anti-HIV treatment is ineffective, but that it actually causes AIDS. In reality, countless studies have affirmed that highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) can improve the health of people with AIDS and delay the progression of HIV disease. Likewise, there is overwhelming evidence that HAART has played a large role in the decline of AIDS-related deaths over the past several years.

Certainly, there are serious toxicities associated with most of the anti-HIV drugs currently in use. But as reported in the September 8, 2000, issue of AIDS Treatment News, by forcing researchers and treatment advocates to expend unnecessary time and energy defending the link between HIV and AIDS (and the efficacy of anti-HIV treatments), the denialist movement "has diverted effort from critical questions regarding what sort of research is needed and how to speed the development of better, less toxic therapies."

For more information on this issue, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Krim regarding the "20/20" broadcast, please contact amfAR's Director of Communications, Naomi Starkman, at (212) 806-1602.

Click here to download the full text of amfAR's New York Times ad in Adobe Acrobat format (PDF).