The HIV "Miracle"

I posted this rant (of sorts) on Discuss It! today and wanted to share it with those who read my blog as well.

Headline in the papers: Man claims he has beaten HIV


Let me be the first to call this man, Andrew Stimpson of Great Britain, and ask him “What’s your secret?”
Of course, the cynical side of me can’t help but wonder just who’s pulling whose leg in this scenario.

“I can’t help but wondering if I hold the cure for AIDS,” Mr. Stimpson told Britain’s News of the World, who paid for the story. According to the story, Stimpson tested positive for HIV in August of 2002. After 14 months, doctors tested him again and the tests came back negative.

Stimpson tried to file a lawsuit against the hospital, but it was quickly determined that the tests were conducted as they should have been conducted, and they were not faulty, so he had no case against them. In fact, when the hospital realized that the patient had previously been diagnosed positive and was now diagnosed negative, they tried to conduct further testing to find an explanation for the different results. Stimpson declined. However, after now breaking his story to the media, he has said publicly that he will submit to further testing.

AIDS researchers the world over are puzzling over this case. Some say Stimpson is out to make a buck, but others say that if this is true, it’s the first well-documented case of a possible resistance to HIV in the world.

I’m inclined to believe all of this is just a spectacle that can be damaging if it gets too far out of control. I would absolutely want this guy to submit to not just one, but multiple tests to make sure that the new diagnosis is truly negative. Until then, I can’t help but wonder the following:

1. Why is the news media trumpeting this story as a “miracle” when there is absolutely no proof, except from the mouth of an obviously money-hungry young man? Granted, the British news media, especially News of the World, is especially sensationalist when it comes to these sorts of things.

2. In an age where complacency about HIV is already spinning out of control, where people are actually inclined to believe that it doesn’t even exist; is this the sort of news that can fuel even more speculation about the “HIV Hoax,” which tries to discredit everything we already know about HIV as a lie?

3. Are we so hopeful for a cure that we are willing to believe the first Schmo that steps forward proclaiming that he’s been cured without any concrete proof?

4. Why is it that the incredible medical advances toward a REAL cure are pushed to the back of the paper, while sensationalist and potentially untrue stories such as this taking the spotlight away from what matters most in the fight against AIDS?

I know a lot of these questions are probably rhetorical, and the common answer is that we are so inundated with media impulses that the sensationalistic story takes the lead, but this really bothers me. What if some kid; thinking– in his young, underdeveloped brain– that he, too, could have the “miracle gene” against HIV; goes out and gets himself infected and has to come to the realization that he is not immune after all?

We have enough false hope in this world. We don‘t need another “hero.

UPDATE Listen to the Feast of Fools Podcast #197. Fausto and Marc discuss this topic and more HIV/AIDS topics with Victoria LaMarr, who is living with AIDS.