Paper accused of Aids 'distortion'

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A DOCTOR who was quoted extensively by the Sunday Times to support its view that the Aids epidemic in Africa is a myth has denounced the newspaper for 'gross distortions' and misrepresentation.

Angelo d'Agostino, who runs a hospice in Nairobi for orphans infected with HIV, was a central witness in the paper's campaign to prove there is no African Aids epidemic and that HIV is harmless. But in a strongly worded statement to the Independent on Sunday, he condemned the Sunday Times and reaffirmed his views that HIV causes Aids and that there is a serious epidemic in Africa.

Neville Hodgkinson, science correspondent of the Sunday Times, wrote a front-page article published on 29 August following a three-hour interview with Dr d'Agostino at his Nyumbani hospice. 'D'Agostini (sic), in common with growing numbers of scientists and doctors around the world, is beginning to question whether HIV really is the killer it has been made out to be,' the article said. 'He, like them, suspects that many 'Aids' cases are really old diseases given a new name and that people who test HIV-positive are not, as most have been led to believe, the victims of a new, inevitably lethal disease.'

Dr d'Agostino told the Independent on Sunday: 'I want to categorically distance myself from the gross distortions and quite incorrect implication made as a result of his (Mr Hodgkinson) interviewing me.'

He said Mr Hodgkinson had at no point asked him whether HIV caused Aids and whether there was an Aids epidemic in Africa: 'He never intimated his bias during the interview; if he had, I would certainly have corrected him.'

He accused Mr Hodgkinson of having a 'hidden agenda . . . that became evident only at the time of publication', adding: 'One cannot help but wonder at the motivation for such irresponsible journalism and, more so, decry the terrible effects on the unsuspecting public who are given a false sense of security and run the very real risk of contracting an incurable disease as a consequence.'

Dr d'Agostino, a medical doctor and Jesuit priest, said the interview was not taped but that a Catholic nun, who had sat through it all, 'will attest to the veracity of my statements'.

The Sunday Times has for two years sought to prove that HIV does not cause Aids and, more recently, that the Aids epidemic in Africa is a myth. Mr Hodgkinson's report on Dr d'Agostino's hospice attempted to show that the HIV-positive children in his care are healthy because HIV is harmless.

He wrote that, since the home was opened, only one out of 45 children had died, confounding predictions about the spread of Aids in Africa - 'The experience at Nyumbani flies in the face of the conventional theories about the history of Aids in Africa.'

Dr d'Agostino said that four children in his care had since died of Aids out of a total of 55 with HIV. 'Two or three' others had Aids. He had no doubt that children infected with HIV would eventually succumb to Aids.

He said he sent a fax to the Sunday Times to correct the errors in Mr Hodgkinson's article soon after it appeared, but received no acknowledgement and no correction was published. Mr Hodgkinson was unavailable for comment.

(Photograph omitted)

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