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NHMRC says that HIV and AIDS link is ‘overwhelming’

15 May, 2007

Australia’s peak medical research and advice body, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), has spoken out strongly in support of the link between the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The comments come in light of a recent Supreme Court of South Australia case, where a man who was HIV-positive appealed against a conviction on three counts of endangering life. The man had unprotected sex with three women but failed to tell them he was HIV-positive. The defence team called two scientific witnesses, from the so-called ‘Perth Group’, who testified that HIV did not exist, was not responsible for AIDS, and that AIDS could not be transmitted during sex.

The Court dismissed the appeal, finding the evidence of the two witnesses inadmissible, as they were not qualified to give expert opinion on HIV or AIDS, and that the evidence given was not plausible.

NHMRC CEO Professor Warwick Anderson said that while the NHMRC welcomed the judgement, he remained concerned that people claiming scientific expertise had made statements that were ‘not only against scientific wisdom, but are positively harmful to important public health initiatives, not only in Australia, but around the world’.

‘In health, scientists must be aware of their ethical obligations not to give misleading information or to provide false hope or belief.  It is important that they respect the evidence, and in this case, the international peer-reviewed scientific evidence linking HIV and AIDS is nothing short of overwhelming. It is incontrovertible that the HIV virus is responsible for AIDS’, said Professor Anderson.

Chair of the Council of the NHMRC, Professor Michael Good, said that AIDS ‘continues to be a devastating health problem around the world, and remains a serious public health threat in Australia’.

‘It is through scientific evidence that we will be better able to manage HIV and AIDS, and it is therefore extremely important that the NHMRC and research funding bodies around the world continue to work towards expanding our knowledge and understanding of both’, Professor Good said.

Chair of the NHMRC’s Research Committee, Professor James Best, said the NHMRC had directed over $75 million towards HIV and AIDS research over the past 6 years, and that Australia was making an important contribution to knowledge, new treatments, and public health initiatives.

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