AIDS denialism

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AIDS denialism is a controversial set of claims that cast doubt on the mainstream scientific views around HIV and AIDS. Generally, the claim is that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is not the cause of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Some claim that the major HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is not as prevalent as many make it out to be.

AIDS deniers claim that HIV does not satisfy Koch's postulates: it must exist in every infected person, it must be isolatable and grown in culture, and must cause the disease if given to a healthy person. Scientific and testimonial evidence shows otherwise. Many AIDS deniers claim that it is lifestyle factors that are the cause of AIDS: the use of amyl nitrites or "poppers" by sexually-active gay men, or drug and alcohol use. Others have claimed that the anti-retroviral treatments used in AIDS treatment - ART and AZT specifically - actually cause AIDS rather than prevent it. These claims fall foul of the current evidence regarding HIV and AIDS, and also go against most common sense intuitions: if AIDS was caused by gay men using amyl nitrites, why does it also affect women and straight men, and people in countries where amyl nitrite use isn't widespread among gay men? How can ART and AZT cause AIDS when AIDS appeared at least a decade before anti-retrovirals were approved for clinical use?[1]

AIDS deniers have also claimed that the AIDS epidemic in Africa is caused by malnutrition brought on by poverty. This doesn't account for AIDS in the Western world, where such poverty and malnutrition doesn't exist, nor does it account for the fact that in South Africa, AIDS rates have increased, even though poverty rates have not increased.[2]

In the West, AIDS deniers are widely considered to be cranks, charlatans and often pushers of alternative treatments for AIDS. AIDS denialism has, in recent years, spread to Africa, and Thabo Mbeki has adopted many of the claims of the AIDS denialist movement with tragic consequences.

AIDS denialism has often been used to promote treatments widely considered to be without evidential backing for AIDS including herbal treatments, vitamin supplements, homeopathy, electrical wands and 'zapping' devices, faith healing and even the myth that AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin.


  1. Jonny Steinberg, "AIDS denial: A lethal delusion", New Scientist, 31 July 2009.
  2. Jonny Steinberg, "Five myths about HIV and AIDS", New Scientist, 23 June 2009.