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"HIV/AIDS and Goethe´s Faust: a pact with the devil?"

When Aids was first recognised as a syndrome afflicting growing numbers of homosexual men in San Francisco, New York and elsewhere, the initial response among politicians and the media was to regard it as a “gay plague” associated with a fast-track sex-and-drugs lifestyle. Tragically, that perception became an excuse for neglect. As the death toll mounted, gay leaders and their doctors mounted an intense campaign for a more compassionate and active response.

When US Government scientists claimed to have identified HIV as the cause, and to have developed a test to detect its presence, there was an all-round sense of relief. Billions of dollars flowed into the fight against “HIV/AIDS”.

The red ribbon, and HIV science, became iconic of a compassionate, tolerant society.

Neville Hodgkinson shows that from the earliest days of AIDS, scientists have presented evidence challenging the specificity of the HIV test, and offering alternative explanations for the syndrome. For the most part, however, these voices have been suppressed by the global scientific and medical communities, which came to regard questioning the HIV theory of AIDS causation as akin to holocaust denial - a crime against humanity.

Hodgkinson argues that despite the noble intentions, these feelings and perceptions have corrupted AIDS science in such a way as to damage the lives of millions, including countless gay men. He likens the mistake to that which ultimately causes Faust – also a doctor - to lose his life in Goethe’s version of the tragic legend. Once God’s favourite human being, striving to learn everything that can be known, Faust is ultimately ensnared by the devil through the joy he experiences from an act of compassion.

Goethe’s story has a happy ending: Faust dies, but his soul is saved by the “eternal feminine” and taken to heaven. Can there be an equivalent end to the tragic misunderstandings surrounding “HIV/AIDS”?

Neville Hodgkinson, formerly medical and science correspondent of the London Sunday Times, is author of AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science (Fourth Estate, 1996).

Neville Hodgkinson