HIV HYSTERIA LEADS UN TO LAUNCH ANTI-BREASTFEEDING CAMPAIGN
REAPPRAISING AIDS Newsletter
VOLUME 6, NUMBER 9
Proponents Recognize That Initiative Will Cause Even HIV-negative
Impoverished Women to Stop Breastfeeding Paul Philpott
Nations with millions of people lacking adequate nutrition and sanitation
need money to purchase and administer HIV tests and anti-HIV drugs, and
to discourage mothers from breastfeeding their children, officials and
others asserted at the 12th World AIDS Conference in Geneva.
The United Nations is seeking donations from governments and
foundations to expand HIV testing and counseling to introduce
replacement feeding, [and] short course AZT therapy, reported New York
Times staff writer Lawrence K. Altman, MD, on July 26 from Geneva.
While the UN has always wanted money for HIV testing and AZT in the
impoverished regions that it says account for 90% of the worlds AIDS
cases, the anti-breast milk campaign represents a significant change in
policy countering decades of promoting breast is best for infant
According to Altman in 1985, when HIV was first detected in mothers
milk, US Public Health Service officials issued recommendations
applicable only to the US that infected mothers not breastfeed. Unlike
babies in underdeveloped regions, US babies raised on formula rarely die
as a result. Meanwhile, the UN first confirmed that mothers milk could
transmit the AIDS virus in 1992. But, until now, the WHO recommended
that, in most developing countries, where malnutrition and infectious
diseases remain the paramount threat to infants, breastfeeding should
remain the standard advice to [HIV-positive] pregnant women because
their babys risk of becoming infected through breast milk is likely to
be lower than its risk of dying from other causes if deprived of
In poor regions, formula feeding can be deadly. Already nutritionally
inferior to breast milk, poor mothers stretch the powder by
over-diluting, often with unpotable water. WHO officials have changed
their policy because they believe that suckling transmission of HIV is
rising so fast in those areas that the populations would fare better with
the problems caused by formula feeding.
AGAINST THE BREAST?
Altmans dispatch focused on the new stricture against breast feeding.
Titled, AIDS Brings Shift on breastfeeding; To Combat AIDS, the UN Now
Cautions on breastfeeding, the article states that, The very same
babies spared HIV infection during pregnancy and delivery could, just a
few months later, become infected through breastfeeding. The United
Nations is issuing recommendations intended to discourage women infected
with the AIDS virus from breastfeeding. It is advising governments to
consider bulk purchases of formula and other milk substitutes and
According to Altman, Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the
agency that has pushed hardest to discourage mothers from breastfeeding,
warns HIV-positive moms that breastfeeding could kill their babies.
And he quotes Bernhard Schwartlander, MD, UNAIDS chief epidemiologist,
claiming: Last year, breastfeeding accounted for up to a third of the
600,000 children in the world who became HIV infected, and that from
1992 through last month, up to one million babies in the world had become
HIV-infected through breastfeeding.
The article included a sole dissident voice. Dr. Felicity Savage, a WHO
official, expressed extreme caution about the new guidelines, citing the
risk of contamination of breast milk alternatives in areas that lack
clean water and loss of nutrients if a woman mixes water and formula
inaccurately, Altman writes. Such hazards could endanger a lot of
lives that would otherwise not have been at risk at all, and could
produce more deaths among those receiving replacement feedings than AIDS
among those breastfed by infected women.
REAPPRAISING THE UN INITIATIVE
RA Board member Roberto Giraldo, a physician who attended the Geneva
conference, objects to the UN initiative, particularly its emphasis on
discouraging breastfeeding in underdeveloped areas. He has extensive
experience treating infectious and tropical diseases in the impoverished
I was shocked to learn of this new push to discourage millions of mostly
impoverished women around the world from breastfeeding their infants
simply because they test HIV-positive, he said in an interview with RA .
The people at the conference promoting this initiative provided no
evidencenew or oldto support their assumption that suckling can
transmit HIV, or that HIV even exists in the milk of HIV-positive
The UN initiative is completely wrong-headed within the context of
Giraldos view, shared by many scientists and physicians around the
world, that HIV is entirely harmless, and that poverty
itselfmalnourishment and poor sanitationand AZT are two of the causes
of AIDS. According to this view, money to reduce AIDS in underdeveloped
areas would be best spent on fighting poverty, by building modern
economic and sanitation infrastructures. Money spent on HIV testing would
be a total waste, while money spent on anti-HIV drugs and anti-suckling
campaigns would make things worse.
Altman reports that the UN initiative will target countries in Africa
and Asia where women have high [HIV] infection rates. Giraldo points out
that where HIV rates are high, so are rates for all germs, and where HIV
rates have increased, so have the rates of all germs, indicating
sanitation problems, which in turn indicates abject poverty, rather than
HIV running amok.
Indeed, a recent series of NYT articles about AIDS in Africa confirms
that the populations with the highest HIV incidences are the ones with
the most desperate economic and sanitary crises, as well as the highest
rates of other germs. The articles also show that where HIV incidences
have increased, so have the incidences of other germs, and that these
increases reflect worsening economic situations.
The five articles include an overview (Parts of Africa Showing HIV in 1
in 4 Adults, June 24), and ones that focus on Rwanda (AIDS Prolongs War
Devastation in Rural Rwanda, May 28), South Africa (Post-Apartheid
Agony: AIDS on the March, July 23, Uganda (breastfeeding and HIV:
Weighing Health Risks, Aug. 19, and Zimbabwe (Zimbabwes Descent Into
AIDS Abyss, Aug. 6). All are featured on the website www.nyt.com.
In describing the populations experiencing high HIV rates, the articles
inevitably describe extreme squalor and destitution. The Rwandan article
shows that the rate of HIV-positivity in the countryside has increased
from 1.3% in 1986 to 11% today, the sort of data typically used as
evidence that HIV is a new virus. But new germs arent the only ones that
spread; old ones do too, when sanitatary conditions decline. The article
acknowledges that, during this time, the Rwandans experiencing an HIV
increase have also experienced a state-organized campaign of terror
involving the murder of 500,000 people, and the exodus of 2 million
others who lived two years in refugee camps before marching back to
Rwanda in 1996. Might the spread of HIV among them reflect not the
introduction of a deadly new germ, but rather a collapse of sanitation
causing all resident microbes, including harmless ones that initially
exist at tiny levels, to infect more people? The article mentioned
nothing about other microbes, but the other ones did.
The Zimbabwe article states that Zimbabwe has suddenly turned into the
center of the AIDS epidemic. Recent studies now suggest that it may have
the highest infection rate on earth. Twenty-five percent of all adults
may now be infected with HIV. In some places the rate is closer to 40
percent. But the article acknowledges that this presumed increase in HIV
incidence (it gives no figure for earlier years) has taken place while,
with increasing poverty and instability, illness has begun to overcome
the country. Tuberculosis, hepatitis, malaria, measles and cholera have
surged mercilessly. So have infant mortality, still births, and sexually
transmitted diseases. Malarial deaths rose from 100 in 1989 to 2,800 in
1997. Tuberculosis cases rose from 5,000 in 1986 to 35,000 in 1997 and
this year it is worse. The reporter acknowledged that these diseases
indicate poverty, calling TB the sentinel illness of poverty and social
The NYT series also illustrates one of the essential criticisms of the
HIV-AIDS model: among the sick and dying, clinicians can not distinguish
who would test HIV-positive if test kits were available. Giraldo points
out that in regions with no funds for HIV testing, AIDS diagnoses there
are made presumptively , meaning, people are diagnosed as having AIDS
simply by having conditions that HIV is said to cause, such as
tuberculosis and the symptoms of malaria (persistent night sweats, fever,
and wasting) and cholera (diarrhea, fever, and wasting). But when western
scientists show up with their test kits, they find that 70% of these
AIDS patients are HIV-negative (Lancet 340:971, 1992; Journal of AIDS
7:876, 1994; American Review of Respiratory Disease 147:958, 1993).
EVEN IF HIV DID CAUSE AIDS
Does the UNs initiative make sense even within the context of the
HIV-AIDS model? No, Giraldo says, for three reasons: (1) Theres no
scientific support for the contention that suckling transmits HIV; (2)
The campaign against breastfeeding will cause even HIV-negative women to
stop; and (3) Mass HIV testing misidentifies large fractions of people as
BREAST IS BEST
The supremacy of breast milk is well-documented and well-accepted,
especially for its life-preserving role in nourishing impoverished
children. So there must be a good reason for recommending against it,
The availability of powdered infant formula introduced in the 1960s
exacerbated the epidemic of AIDS diseases (tuberculosis, malaria,
cholera, etc.) among impoverished people, as women over-diluted to save
money, and often used unpotable water. The UN responded with a campaign
to encourage breast milk over formulas. Giraldo is not alone in stating
that, Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants,
especially for poor children.
Altman quotes Kevin M. de Cock, MD, an AIDS specialist at the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, as saying: For large agencies
that have worked hard and long promoting breastfeeding to say that women
with HIV should avoid it, if possible, has been a very difficult policy
pill to swallow.
Altman writes that the UN, despite its new initiative, maintains an
unwavering belief that breastfeeding is the easiest and best source of
nutrition for an infant, promotes bonding between the mother and infant,
allows for a newborns natural reflex to suckle, provides longer spacing
between births, and protects against many life-threatening infections in
the first few months of life.
Nobody disputes the supremacy of breast milk, Giraldo says. But the
claims that it can transmit HIV come with no documentation at all. We
heard lots of claims in Geneva, but nobody provided any scientific data
to show that suckling increases HIV risk, or that milk from HIV-positive
mothers even contains HIV. I performed an extensive search of the
literature and found no proof for these claims, including Altmans
comments about HIV being shown in the milk in 1985, and HIV suckling
transmission being demonstrated in 1992, and Schwartlanders claim that a
third of HIV-positive children became so from breast milk. I found no
validation for the hypothesis that children can get HIV through the
breast milk of their mothers. This is simply an unproven hypothesis, and
one I believe is probably false, given what has been proven about HIV.
Giraldo says he can find no data to show that breastfed babies of
HIV-positive mothers fare worse than those denied their mothers milk, or
that HIV-negative children denied their mothers milk do better than
HIV-positive children fed it. And this, Giraldo says, is precisely the
sort of data one ought to require before warning women against
HIV PROPONENTS BACK THE BREAST
Among physicians who buy the HIV-AIDS model, at least one has also
searched vainly for proof that suckling transmits HIV, and others
continue to favor breastfeeding even for women who test positive.
S. V. Kennedy IV, a professor of public health at the Allegheny
University of the Health Sciences, documented in the July 1998 issue of
Medical Hypothesis his search for scientific data supporting the notion
that suckling transmits HIV. Like Giraldo, Kennedy found nothing matching
the figures tossed out by Altman and Schwartlander.
Reports Kennedy: a recent analysis of the MEDLINE database of articles
compiled by the National Library of Medicine (1985-95) revealed
approximately 167 publications with HIV, breast milk and breast feeding
as the common denominators. Of the 20 articles representing adequate
reviews of the key words, none showed that breastfed babies of
HIV-positive mothers had a higher HIV-positive rate than those denied
their mothers milk. Furthermore, he noted that only a few citations
mentioned the presence in mothers milk of anything indicating the
presence of HIV, and 19 of the 20 papers, or 95% advocated the value of
breast feeding despite the HIV alarm.
From the database analysis, we know that the relative role of breast
feeding in the epidemiology of HIV is still uncertain, that the
epidemiological data do not lend credence to such a theory of the
postnatal infectivity (of HIV) by breast milk, and that the documented
level of infectivity has led some researchers to believe that the
possibility of suckling transmission might have been overstated and
could therefore not be the major public health factor some have
Kennedy goes on to acknowledge that we know of the antiviral activities
of breast milk, and possibly an anti-HIV property. Then he concludes;
taking into account the role and value of breast milk in preventing or
minimizing childhood diseases like malnutrition, infections, diarrhea,
and measles, in enhancing mother-to-child bonding, and in childhood
nutrients, breast milk and breastfeeding should continue to be
encouraged, especially in the developing countries.
HIV-NEGATIVE MOTHERS AND BREASTFEEDING
Proponents of the new policy against breast milk know that it will cause
even HIV-negative mothers to forgo breastfeeding. The United Nation said
it was deeply concerned that advising infected mothers not to breastfeed
might lead many mothers who are not infected to stop breastfeeding,
This is because the UN knows that itll never raise enough money to test
most pregnant Third World women. With the same publicity machinery that
so effectively sold the HIV-AIDS hypothesis now selling the HIV-suckling
hypothesis, many women unable to get tested will simply play it safe.
The UNs solution? It is advising governments to consider bulk purchases
of formula and other milk substitutes so that theres enough not just
for those who test positive, but for those who dont test at all.
PROBLEMS WITH TESTING
Even among those who get tested, many people identified as positive will
be labeled falsely. This is because the tests are very nonsensitive: most
people who test positive have no active HIV infections. The sensitivity
of HIV antibody testinga battery of ELISAs and Western blots used to
define people as HIV-positiveis 41%-76% in people with AIDS
conditions, and 0%-10% in people without AIDS conditions (Gallo, Science
224:497, 1984; Piatak, Science 259:1749, 1993; Piatak, Lancet 341:1099,
1993; Daar, NEJM 324:961, 1991; Clark NEJM 324:954, 1991; Cooper,
Lancet 340:1257, 1992). This means that among HIV-positive people with
AIDS conditions, only 41%-76% have what are regarded as active HIV
infections, and among HIV-positive people with no AIDS conditions (the
majority of HIV-positive people), only 0%-10% do.
Viral load, which involves the counting of HIV RNA fragments, is no
better. Sensitivity for people with AIDS conditions is about 66%, and for
people without AIDS conditions only 9% (Piatak, Science 259:1749, 1993).
One reason for this low sensitivity is that most HIV infections are
inactive: the host harbors sleeping HIV DNA that is harmless, even if HIV
was a pathogen.
Another reason is that antibodies produced against HIV proteinsthe
antibodies that define people as HIV-positiveare produced also against
many non-HIV proteins, including those associated with more than 70
different conditions, Giraldo says. Interestingly, most of these
conditions are present in the vast majority of the inhabitants of the
underdeveloped world. This means a lot of HIV-positive people have never
even encountered HIV, and those dont even have inactive infections.
So, under the UNs directive, HIV testing efforts will result in many
people who have no active HIV infections none the less taking toxic
anti-HIV drugs and feeding their children diluted, contaminated formula
instead of breast milk.
For Giraldo, the proper course of action is clear. These people need
food, modern homes, paved streets, indoor plumbing, and clean water, and
the babies need to breastfeed, he says. Not HIV tests, AZT, or warnings
against mothers milk. You get rid of TB, cholera, malnutrition, and the
rest, and you will get rid of AIDS.
REAPPRAISING AIDS HOMEPAGE
From: Gary L Krasner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
REAPPRAISING AIDS Newsletter
VOLUME 6, NUMBER 9
Mothering Magazine Reappraises AIDS Again
The September/October 1998 issue of Mothering again calls into question
the idea that HIV causes AIDS. RA board member and former Spin writer
(now with Gear ) Celia Farber contributed four articles, and editor Peggy
O'Mara devoted her editorial to supporting the AIDS reappraisal movement.
One of Celia's auricles, "HIV and Breastfeeding," included one of the
most defiant and startling statements yet in favor of the AIDS
reappraisal perspective: a full page, color photograph of HIV-positive
Christine Maggiore -- founder and director of HEAL-Los Angeles and RA
board member -- breastfeeding her infant son Charlie.
That article tells the story of an HIV-positive woman in LA who was
banned by a judge's order from breastfeeding her infant daughter, and
forced first to test the daughter for HIV and then, when the test
returned positive, to administer her AZT. The woman secretly breastfeeds
and throws out the AZT, while she and her baby flourish. The secrecy
extends even to an older daughter, whom officials occasionally question
about her mother's activities. Meanwhile, the estranged, HIV-positive
father has died while consuming AZT.
Farber in this article also critiques the new push to discourage
breastfeeding and distribute AZT in the Third World. Farber's take: "A
drug (AZT), which can actually impair immunity, will be given to combat a
virus (HIV) that has never been proven to destroy immunity, and then
finally, the very source of immunity that nature has provided (breast
milk) will be discouraged."
She quotes physician Naomi Baumslag as saying, "It is impossible to be
certain if transmission of AIDS is prenatal, in utero, postpartum, or via
breast milk. While there are a very few reported cases of HIV
transmission through breast milk, it has never been absolutely proven.
Studies may eventually even show that exclusive breastfeeding is
protective against AIDS. Formula feeding has terrible consequences for
most children. Many more infants worldwide die of diarrheal dehydration
than of AIDS."
Farber juxtaposes the official claims that 1,500 children each day become
infected with HIV against other data showing that every day 33,000
children under the age of five die from diseases "against which
breastfeeding can provide an essential defense."
A second article, "AZT Roulette," critiques the push to administer AZT to
pregnant HIV-positive women and to their infants as a means of preventing
maternal transmission and treating HIV infections. Farber describes the
story of Kris Chmiel, a Denver woman profiled in the July 1998 issue of
RA . Chmiel was tested for the first time while pregnant in 1995. Doctors
traced her positive result to a blood transfusion 21 years earlier.
Chmiel, who never had before experienced AIDS conditions, developed
several while following doctors' orders to consume AZT. When her
prescription ran out, so did her AIDS. She's now been free of AZT and
AIDS for two years, and her daughter is HIV-negative and healthy.
Farber facilitates a debate between a doctor who says "I've never seen
any kid who's done well without the medications" and a social worker who
says she's "seen perhaps the greatest treatment success among
HIV-positive children who have done nothing, meaning no medications.
Mothers will never tell their doctors, but they'll tell me. They feel
like they are poisoning their kids."
A third Farber article, "How Accurate Is the HIV Test?," describes many
standard criticisms of the antibody tests, and "Does HIV Cause AIDS?"
presents the view of UC-Berkeley virologist Peter Duesberg, who maintains
that HIV is harmless and that factors like narcotics, AZT, and poverty
are the causes of AIDS.
O'Mara devotes over two pages to her editorial, "Life, Liberty, and
Informed Consent." She compares the AIDS reappraisal perspective to
others that initially seemed outrageous, but which eventually became
mainstream. She describes the "standard treatment for HIV" as putting the
lives of mothers and their babies at risk, and mentions the "hysteria
over HIV and AIDS." Mothering has consistently opened its pages to the
AIDS reappraisal perspective and is now the only major publication to
afford it regular coverage.
For comments and subscriptions, contact: PO Box 1690, Santa Fe, NM 87504,
REAPPRAISING AIDS HOMEPAGE