Exclusive: HIV film ‘dangerous and misleading’

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PinkNews.co.uk exclusive investigation
A film about HIV and what causes AIDS has been attacked for being misleading and even dangerous.

According to producer and director Brent Leung, House of Numbers is an objective and unbiased look at the question of what causes AIDS.

But HIV charities and health experts have told PinkNews.co.uk it misrepresents the scientists featured and the ideas promoted perpetrate medical “myths”.

Since the film’s release, 18 of the doctors interviewed have released a statement saying they had been “deceived” and that the film “perpetuates pseudo-science and myths”.

The statement, signed by all 18, added: “[The film] presents the AIDS denialist agenda as being a legitimate scientific perspective on HIV/AIDS, when it is no such thing.”

House of Numbers features interviews with a number of scientists and medical experts, along with campaigners who believe HIV medication causes the symptoms of AIDS and the disease can be cured through lifestyle choices. It has won an number of international awards and has been screened at several film festivals.

The film also featured one woman who was HIV positive. Christine Maggiore said she was healthy despite not taking her medication. The film did not reveal she had died on pneumonia until two seconds before the end, after the credits. Maggiore’s three-year-old daughter, who was also HIV-positive, died of AIDS and pneumonia, a fact not revealed in the film.

AIDS denialism is a movement that believes HIV either does not exist or is harmless; that therapies for HIV infection are themselves the cause of AIDS; that drug abuse causes AIDS; that HIV was created by the US government to kill Africans and African-Americans as an act of genocide; and that diagnostic tests for HIV infection do not work.

It has been widely discredited and it was estimated that 350,000 people died unnecessarily of AIDS in South Africa between 2000 and 2005 as a result of government policy based on AIDS denialism.

Although the film has been accused of misrepresenting scientists, critics have also charged that it may damage the public health.

Both Terrence Higgins Trust and the National AIDS Trust have said it is “profoundly dangerous” and misleading.

Lisa Power, head of policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “A film denying the Holocaust would be widely condemned, and this film should be too.. . [It] is wholly irrational and profoundly misleading.”

Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrats’ science spokesman, told PinkNews.co.uk: “I have not seen the film but I accept what I have been told about it by those who have seen it – that it takes a pseudo-scientific approach and misrepresents scientists who appear in it.

“Film-makers have a right to masquerade fiction as fact if they wish in a free society but I would ask organisations like the Spectator [which called off a panel debate over the film] who have considered promoting the film to bear in mind the need not to damage the public health by aiding uncritically the peddling of unsubstantiated medical myths.”

Richard Hayes, professor of epidemiology and international health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The position of the AIDS denialist movement has been wholly discredited. There has never been more than a small number of scientists who took this view, and there are now virtually none. There is overwhelming scientific evidence for HIV as the underlying cause of AIDS.”

In a statement given to PinkNews.co.uk, Leung said: “Yes, certain individuals are making accusations against me, but until this past weekend, none would come forward and identify themselves. The notion that I took people out of context comes from a letter which did not include signatures for any of the authors, and only made wide-sweeping generalisations, none of which addressed specifics in the film. I truly believe that making serious claims such as the ones in the letter must be backed up with specific examples or evidence in order to hold any water.

“I told another UK-based reporter that I do not believe that my film took any of the interviewees out of context – in fact, I am so confident of this that for any of the interviewees who are able to sufficiently able to support their claims against me, I would be willing to open up their footage as evidence.”

He added that the film did not explicitly state that HIV and AIDS do not exist and said that it did not state that there is no link between them.