Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 432–440 | Cite as

“There is no proof that HIV causes AIDS”: AIDS denialism beliefs among people living with HIV/AIDS

  • Seth C. KalichmanEmail author
  • Lisa Eaton
  • Chauncey Cherry


AIDS denialists offer false hope to people living with HIV/AIDS by claiming that HIV is harmless and that AIDS can be cured with natural remedies. The current study examined the prevalence of AIDS denialism beliefs and their association to health-related outcomes among people living with HIV/AIDS. Confidential surveys and unannounced pill counts were collected from a convenience sample of 266 men and 77 women living with HIV/AIDS that was predominantly middle-aged and African American. One in five participants stated that there is no proof that HIV causes AIDS and that HIV treatments do more harm than good. AIDS denialism beliefs were more often endorsed by people who more frequently used the internet after controlling for confounds. Believing that there is a debate among scientists about whether HIV causes AIDS was related to refusing HIV treatments and poorer health outcomes. AIDS denialism beliefs may be common among people living with HIV/AIDS and such beliefs are associated with poor health outcomes.


AIDS denialism HIV/AIDS treatment Internet health information 



National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grants R01-MH71164, R01-MH82633 and National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) R01AA017399 supported this research.


  1. Associated-press. (2007). Gambia’s President claims he has cure for AIDS. 2008, from
  2. Baker, D. W., Parker, R. M., Williams, M. V., & Clark, W. S. (1998). Health literacy and the risk of hospital admission. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 13, 791–798.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bangsberg, D. R., Hecht, F. M., Charlebois, E. D., Chesney, M., & Moss, A. (2001). Comparing objective measures of adherence to HIV antiretroviral therapy: Electronic medication monitors and unannounced pill counts. AIDS and Behavior, 5, 275–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benotsch, E. G., Kalichman, S. C., & Weinhardt, L. (2004). HIV/AIDS patients’ evaluation of health information on the internet. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 1004–1011.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bogart, L., & Thorburn, S. (2005). Are HIV/AIDS conspiracy beliefs a barrier to HIV prevention among African Americans? Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 38(2), 213–218.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bogart, L., & Thorburn, S. T. (2006). Relationship of African Americans’ socio-demographic characteristics to belief in conspiracies about HIV/AIDS and birth control. Journal of the National Medical Association, 98, 1144–1150.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Casey, S. (2009, November 24). Everything you know about AIDS is wrong. The Rock Creek Free Press. Google Scholar
  8. Chigwedere, P., & Essex, M. (2010). AIDS denialism and public health practice. AIDS and Behavior, 14(2), 237–247.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Chigwedere, P., Seage, G. R., 3rd, Gruskin, S., Lee, T.-H., & Essex, M. (2008). Estimating the lost benefits of antiretroviral drug use in South Africa. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 49(4), 410–415.Google Scholar
  10. Diethelm, P., & McKee, M. (2009). Denialism: What is it and how should scientists respond? European Journal of Public Health, 19, 2–4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Duesberg, P. (1992). AIDS: The alternative view. Lancet, 339(8808), 1547.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Duesberg, P. (1994). Infectious AIDS-stretching the germ theory beyond its limits. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, 103(2), 118–127.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Duesberg, P., & Bialy, H. (1995). HIV results in the frame. HIV an illusion. Nature, 375(6528), 197; author reply 198.Google Scholar
  14. Duesberg, P., Nicholson, J. M., Rasnick, D., Fiala, C., & Bauer, H. H. (2009). HIV-AIDS hypothesis out of touch with South African AIDS – A new perspective. Medical Hypotheses [Retracted].Google Scholar
  15. Duesberg, P., & Rasnick, D. (1998). The AIDS dilemma: Drug diseases blamed on a passenger virus. Genetica, 104(2), 85–132.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Farber, C. (2006, March). Out of control: AIDS and the corruption of medical science. Harper’s magazine.Google Scholar
  17. Geffen, N. (2009). Justice after AIDS denialism: Should there be prosecutions and compensation? Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 51(4), 454–455.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Howard, C. A. (2009, June 4). Well, Well, Well: Alternatives to Pharma. Vue weekly.Google Scholar
  19. Hutchinson, A. B., Begley, E. B., Sullivan, P., Clark, H. A., Boyett, B. C., & Kellerman, S. E. (2007). Conspiracy beliefs and trust in information about HIV/AIDS among minority men who have sex with men. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 45(5), 603–605.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Kalichman, S. C. (2009). Denying AIDS: Conspiracy theories, pseudscience, and human tragedy. New York: Copernicus/Springer.Google Scholar
  21. Kalichman, S. C., Amaral, C. M., Cherry, C., Flanagan, J. A., Pope, H., Eaton, L., et al. (2008). Monitoring Antiretroviral adherence by unannounced pill counts conducted by telephone: Reliability and criterion-related validity. HIV Clinical Trials, 9, 298–308.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Kalichman, S. C., Amaral, C. M., Stearns, H. L., White, D., Flanagan, J. A., Pope, H., et al. (2007). Adherence to antiretroviral therapy assessed by unannounced pill counts conducted by telephone. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 22, 1003–1006.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Kalichman, S. C., Cherry, C., Cain, D., Pope, H., Kalichman, M., Eaton, L., et al. (2006a). Intervention to improve internet access and health information consumer skills among people living with HIV/AIDS. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 545–554.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Kalichman, S. C., Cherry, C., Cain, D., Weinhardt, L., Benotsch, E., Pope, H., et al. (2006b). Health information on the internet and people living with HIV/AIDS: Information evaluation and coping styles. Health Psychology, 25, 205–210.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kalichman, S. C., Rompa, D., & Cage, M. (2000). Distinguishing between overlapping somatic symptoms of depression and HIV disease in people living with HIV-AIDS. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 188(10), 662–670.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Lawler, A. (2002). Climate change: battle over IPCC chair renews debate on U.S. climate policy. Science, 296, 232–233.Google Scholar
  27. Lenzer, J. (2008, June). Peter’s principles. Discover.Google Scholar
  28. Margulis, L., Maniotis, A., MacAllister, J., Scythes, J., Brorson, O., Hall, J., et al. (2009). Position paper. Spirochete round bodies. Syphilis, Lyme disease & AIDS: Resurgence of “the great imitator”? Symbiosis, 47, 51–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Moore, J., Bergman, J., & Wainberg, M. (2007). The AIDS denialists are still around. International AIDS Society Newsletter (March), 4–5.Google Scholar
  30. Nattrass, N. (2007). Mortal combat: AIDS denialism and the struggle for antiretrovirals in South Africa. Scottsville: University of KwaZuluNatal Press.Google Scholar
  31. Nattrass, N. (2010). Still crazy after all these years: The challenge of AIDS denialism for science. AIDS and Behavior, 14(2), 248–251.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Shermer, M., & Grobman, A. (2000). Denying history: Who says the holocaust never happened and why they say it. Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  33. Thorburn, S., & Bogart, L. M. (2005). Conspiracy beliefs about birth control: barriers to pregnancy prevention among African Americans of reproductive age. Health Education and Behavior, 32(4), 474–487.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Wald, R., Synowski, S., & Temosjok, L. (2009). Conspiracy beliefs aare related to antiretroviral therapy use. Paper presented at the Society for Behavioral Medicine.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Seth C. Kalichman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lisa Eaton
    • 1
  • Chauncey Cherry
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

Personalised recommendations