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With families and loved ones, as well as world leaders, waiting for a definitive explanation for the shooting down of Air Malaysia Flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine on Thursday (an event that might have massive global repercussions), conspiracy theorists and ‘truth seekers’ were naturally offering their own theories almost as soon as the news broke.
Amid all the usual mixture of speculation, some of it interesting, some not, the one conspicuous piece of information that struck me about this tragic story from the outset was the report that more than 100 international AIDS researchers and activists were among the passengers aboard the doomed plane.
That particular element of the event has prompted my mind back to the controversies surrounding the nature of the AIDS epidemic itself, its highly questionable origins and the enduring conspiracy theories associated with it. “The cure for AIDS may have been on that plane,” was the statement that really prompted me to write this post when I heard it.

On Friday reporters in Melbourne were told the flight carried a number of senior “researchers, who were medical scientists, doctors, people who’ve been at the forefront of dealing with AIDS across the world.” HIV/AIDS consultant, Trevor Stratton, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that “the cure for AIDS may have been on that plane.” It’s a mind-numbing suggestion. Not that the crash and its many fatalities aren’t a tragedy even without the AIDS element to the story, but it does make one wonder if some present or future crucial or promising strand of research in the fight against AIDS may have been among the casualties of the downed flight. The AIDS activists were delegates to the 20th International AIDS Conference, which is still due to commence on Sunday in Melbourne.

Passengers aboard Malaysian Flight MH-17 included Joep Lange, the former president of the International AIDS Society and a devoted advocate for expanding access to affordable HIV treatment in poor societies and countries. The leading Dutch researcher had studied HIV/AIDS for over thirty years and was considered to be “a giant in the field”.

So while the human cost of this Ukrainian calamity is already enormous in itself, the cost to the field of AIDS research could be described as especially massive; and it’s a cost that might at this stage be difficult to even quantify or put into perspective. Just imagine, for example, if Dr Donald Henderson, the scientist foremost credited with the breakthrough in the fight against small-pox in the seventies – an absolute hero in global and human terms – had died in a plane crash or some similar tragedy months or years before the immunisation had been developed. The ongoing death toll from small-pox might’ve been massive; might even have increased over subsequent years. The smallpox eradication campaign came to a successful conclusion in 1977 when the very last case of the horrific disease was reported in Somalia.

It thus became the first infectious disease to be decisively wiped out; an absolute triumph of both human endeavour and medical science. There may or may not have been a number of potential Donald Henderson’s aboard that plane on Thursday.

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Amid all the usual outlandish ravings and rantings abounding in recent days concerning conspiracies involving the MH-17 disaster, one somewhat logical and inevitable theory that has emerged in the wake of the Flight MH-17 crash is that some of the passengers aboard the plane were intending to either announce a major breakthrough in AIDS research… or to reveal something in relation to the decades-old conspiracy theory that AIDS was a man-made virus and an instrument of calculated, targeted genocide.

The former seems unlikely – if there was any major medical or scientific breakthrough, the evidence of it, the work and the documentation, would exist elsewhere and wouldn’t likely be limited to the passengers aboard the plane (hint; you don’t carry around information of that nature on a single USB stick in your briefcase). However, the theory would obviously have it that various parties and organisations might be opposed to any great breakthroughs in the fight against AIDS, particularly in Africa, and would therefore either try to destroy the work, eliminate key figures involved in that work, or a mixture of both. It’s curious to note that 16 years ago, an AIDS-patient advocate and World Health official named Jonathan Mann also died in a plane crash – an incident that numerous conspiracy theorists have always found suspect.

I have a guarded, mixed attitude towards the complicated and sometimes sordid arena of conspiracy theories in general (I always hesitate to promote the more spurious-seeming theories that lack basis in convincing information unless I do it in a clearly tongue-in-cheek manner) – much of my attitude towards this I covered in this post a few years ago. But there have always been some enduring conspiracy theories that I’ve found too compelling to fully dismiss or ignore.

And one of them admittedly has always been the ‘AIDS as a man-made bio-weapon’ idea; an idea that has never really been given much mainstream media coverage, but that has never truly gone away either. It’s this longstanding theory that I want to focus on right now; and not the current suggestions concerning the specific victims aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17, because at this point in time those can be nothing more than fact-deficient speculation.

It is a belief that has long been prevalent among conspiracy theory circles; that AIDS was created as a biological weapon as part of an extreme ‘population control’ programme going back decades. From the very time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first reported the HIV/AIDS epidemic 33 years ago, suggestions have persisted that the virus was actually created specifically to target both the gay community and the African-American community.

This belief still exists among many elements of the African-American communities in the US; that AIDS was created to eliminate large portions of the black community.

In a controversial study, The Rand Corporation reported that out of 500 African-American participants in their survey, over half believed the AIDS virus had been created and released primarily to target black people. The African-American population makes up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, but according to a study by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation it accounts for 44 percent of new HIV infections. The same study also reports that the rate of black women contracting HIV is fifteen times higher than that of white women in the US.

And it isn’t just questionable conspiracy theorists or tin-foil-hat merchants that give credence to this theory, but also some highly respected figures; such as, for example, Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai who, upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize, used that massive platform to voice her belief in the man-made hypothesis for the origin of the AIDS virus. Some, such as Maathai, might be considered brave souls who’ve been willing to speak out on the subject; one wonders how many other genuinely ‘respectable’ figures and authorities in the field might share her belief but be unwilling to say so publicly for fear of ridicule, sanctions or career damage.

z-AIDS-Press-collage-gayinthe80s-comImage courtesy of gayinthe80s.com.

In 1986, at the height of the AIDS ‘hysteria’ in both Western society and media, authorities within the Soviet Union caused shock by claiming HIV had been secretly developed at Fort Detrick, the U.S. Army’s biological warfare unit. Those accusations were ridiculed away in mainstream media at the time as anti-American propaganda; but it is an extraordinary claim to have made, even at a time of international tension.

The prevailing ‘mainstream’ opinion remains that AIDS is a species-crossing virus originating in Africa; yet many observers without an academic reputation to protect or a status quo agenda to service have pointed out the lack of definitive evidence to actually explain how a primarily heterosexual disease allegedly infecting black men in Africa evolved into a primarily homosexual disease infecting white males in New York.

While it’s questionable whether homophobic attitudes are as prevalent today as they were during the 1980s (certainly in Conservative America they were anyway), in the minds of much of the ‘mainstream’ public the AIDS virus is still regarded to be a sexually-transmitted disease associated primarily with homosexuals, drug addicts, prostitutes and generally ‘promiscuous’ or undesirable elements of society. And among the religious right (yes, that lovely and compassionate society of intellectuals and forward-thinkers) in particular there has always been a belief that AIDS was some kind of ‘divine punishment’ for ‘lifestyle choices’; as if it was a kind of ‘others’ disease that wholesome, respectable citizens didn’t need to concern themselves with. It’s astonishing to me that anyone could still regard it that way in this day and age.

The theory that AIDS was a deliberate attack on the gay community in particular (and a crisis, perversely, for which the gay community was largely blamed by many sections of society) is one that has, as I said, stuck in my mind for a long time, due to some highly compelling evidence and chronology.

The crucial focal point of this hypothesis is the government-sponsored Hepatitis B vaccine experiments that occurred between 1978 and 1981. Compelling research exists – and moreover has existed for decades – showing a disturbing connection between these government vaccine experiments and the subsequent spread of what was for a long time regarded as “the gay disease” in the early eighties.

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Many who have studied the matter at length conclude that there is less evidence to suggest the prevailing ‘out of Africa’ theory of a ‘species jumping’ virus originating in chimpanzees and more evidence to suggest that the first AIDS cases were not in Africa but in Manhattan in 1979 and involving white gay men.

Scores of homosexual men volunteered for this experimental Hepatitis B vaccination trial in 1978, its location being the New York Blood Center in Manhattan – approximately 3 years before the first major outbreak of HIV was reported in America (if the poster image above doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, I don’t know what will). For anyone interested in this subject, I strongly, strongly recommend reading some of the work of Alan Cantwell, M.D, author of the books AIDS and the Doctors of Death and Queer Blood: The Secret AIDS Genocide Plot, which is chief among some of the more sober and less sensationalist research into the matter available.

Those interested should visit this link to read a very detailed and compelling article on the subject by Mr Cantwell.

Finally, to put into perspective how immensely important AIDS research is – and therefore how important the global community of AIDS researchers, scientists and activists is – one needs only to remind oneself of the scale of human suffering we’re talking about. There are currently 36 million people worldwide estimated to be infected with AIDS/HIV. An estimated twenty-two million human beings have died from the disease.

“These people were the best and the brightest,” HIV researcher Clive Aspin has said in an interview with The Guardian regarding those lost in the MH-17 plane crash, “the ones who had dedicated their whole careers to fighting this terrible virus.”

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