A film dares to go...yes...THERE.
by Matthew B. Zrebski

Friday, April 24, 2009

Yesterday marked an important 25th anniversary. On April 23rd 1984, U.S. Health Secretary Margaret Heckler announced that Dr. Robert Gallo had discovered the cause for AIDS, a little known retrovirus we now call HIV. The press conferences and interviews that followed presented a confident Gallo - and promised to the nation was a vaccine within a few years. As you know, we have no vaccine, no cure, and oddly, last year the Nobel Prize did not go to Gallo for discovering HIV, but to Luc Montagnier of France.

A new film is making its way through film festivals this spring. House of Numbers dares to investigate the HIV/AIDS phenomenon by including all the important players in AIDS research - but it also includes voices of dissent - scientists, including Nobel Prize winners who question the role of HIV in AIDS. The film is causing quite a stir. Only days ago, at the Boston Indie Film Festival, a near riot broke out between people at a panel discussion. Hot words like "denialist" and "Orwellian" got thrown around. A civilized discussion was not to be had.

The orthodox scientists view HIV dissidents as dangerous to the public. They believe that to question the current medical paradigm is to promote unsafe sex and other reckless behavior - and that to forego pharmaceutical drugs in favor of nutrition and alternative therapies is to allow the virus to keep mutating and thus prevent vaccines and treatments from being effective. In a taped interview, men such as Mark Wainberg, former President of the International AIDS Society, have called for a constitutional amendment in the United States that would criminalize the act of questioning HIV/AIDS theories and imprison people so as to silence their dangerous assertions. And in some states, legislation has been proposed to quarantine HIV+ individuals who refuse HIV retroviral medications.

Dissident scientists believe that after twenty-five years, some new paths should potentially be explored. There are many people who have had HIV for over 20 years, never taken a drug, and never become ill. The CDC has continued to state for twenty years that up to a third of the HIV+ population is unaware of their status, and yet there has been no surge of these unknowing people rushing to the ER with AIDS defining illnesses as was seen in the early 1980s. And now, the leading cause of death for AIDS patients in America is liver and heart failure - from the HIV medications. In addition, there is no international gold standard for HIV testing; it is completely possible to test positive in one country and then negative in another - an odd reality given HIV is said to be a virtual death sentence without treatment. And some scientists make the claim that HIV has never been properly isolated.

I am excited to see this film once it's released on DVD. But the controversy troubles me - not the tension between the opposing views in the film (I love that drama!) - but the fact that director Brent W. Leung is being viciously attacked for having the audacity to allow dissident scientists to speak at all. He is also being accused of tricking orthodox scientists into participating in the documentary - not telling them he was going to present both sides. For his efforts I say, YOU GO, Brent! Freedom. Of. Speech. I applaud this filmmaker for having the journalistic hunger to travel the world for two years and then present what is a very important story.

Because again - yesterday was an important anniversary. Twenty-five years in the world of HIV=AIDS=DEATH. No cure. No vaccine. Lots of fear. Disproportionate numbers in the African American and African communities. The list goes on. Why not at least consider that something may have gone awry? Or somewhat awry? And even if people think that dissident views are ridiculous or silly - isn't it the right of anyone to practice free speech and exercise their curiosity as they see fit?

Here is the link to the website and trailer. Check it out. Weigh in.

House of Numbers