by Helen Lobato
At long last the fact that sex doesn’t spread HIV hits the headlines.
At the South Australian Court of Criminal Appeal an appeal case has HIV-AIDS specialists on tender hooks awaiting the outcome which they say could set a dangerous precedent for public health campaigns and the criminal law.
Andre Chad Parenzee is appealing against his conviction on three counts of endangering life. He is in custody awaiting sentencing and could face up to 15 years in prison. He was found guilty in February 2006 of endangering the lives of three women because he had unprotected sex with them without telling them he had HIV.
This case is very interesting because it is believed to be the first time the existence of HIV has been challenged in a court of law. One of the witnesses is Dr. Papadopulos-Eleopulos. In a 50-page Powerpoint presentation, she told the court that AIDS had nothing to do with HIV, which - if it existed at all - was not a retrovirus and not transmitted between people by sexual intercourse.
Papadopulos-Eleopulos cited a 1997 published paper written by University of California researcher Nancy Padian who put the risk of a male transmitting HIV to a female at 0.0009 per contact. Furthermore that HIV had never been isolated and that the main risk factors for getting AIDS remained the passive role in anal intercourse, and intravenous drug use.
Ms Papadopulos-Eleopulos's colleague at the Perth Group, Val Turner was also a witness for Parenzee. He testified that the testing of HIV was "indirect" - it measured the presence of proteins and antibodies in blood assumed to be triggered by HIV and that there was no test to directly detect HIV.Challenging stuff indeed!
A brief recap of HIV/Aids history is needed at this point.
Back in 1980, an immunology researcher went looking for patients experiencing immune deficiency diseases. His first case was a young man with a persistent pneumonia called pneumocystis carinii. This particular pneumonia rarely affects people other than those with cancer whose immune systems have been adversely affected by chemotherapy or radiation. His research soon yielded more cases of patients suffering immune deficiencies diseases. These patients were also afflicted with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP). The five patients with these immune deficiency diseases were all male and homosexual. A pattern was emerging and very soon their immune system dysfunction was described as AIDS and even though the five men had no contact with each other, the mode of passage was defined as sexually acquired.
If it were a contagious epidemic, healthcare professionals would surely run the highest risk of contracting a disease. However this has not eventuated and during the entire AIDS epidemic however, only 25 cases of AIDS have been reported among healthcare workers.
In the early years of HIV/AIDS, AIDS related diseases were mainly those of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) and Kaposi’s Sarcoma. However today a person is diagnosed with AIDS if they have one or more of the 29 official AIDS-defining conditions and if they also test positive for antibodies associated with HIV. This means that pneumonia in a person who tests HIV positive is AIDS, while the same pneumonia in a person testing HIV negative is pneumonia.
Monash University professor Suzanne Crowe, head of the Burnet Institute's HIV Pathogenesis and Clinical Research Program has been quoted as saying, “that unless the prosecution wins the legal showdown, it would set a "dangerous precedent" in the global AIDS fight.
However it needs to be said that the dangerous precedent was set 25 years ago and what the world needs is a good dose of reality. Hopefully this trial will start the ball rolling in this regard.