Gemini Award for The Origins of AIDS

At the 20th annual Gemini Awards on Thursday 17 November 2005,The Origin of AIDS was named best Science, Technology, Nature, Environment or Adventure Documentary Program.

The Geminis are bestowed by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, a national non-profit organization of 4,000 industry professionals dedicated to promoting awareness of Canada’s film and television industry.

Sundance Channel Acquires Rights

Sundance Channel Acquires Rights to Controversial Documentary The Origins of AIDS

Multiple Award-Winner to Premiere on February 7th at 9:00pm ET/PT

Copyright 2005 PR Newswire Association LLC. All Rights Reserved. PR Newswire US. January 11, 2005 Tuesday

NEW YORK, Jan. 11 /PRNewswire/ — Sundance Channel has acquired pay television rights to the controversial, award-winning documentary The Origins of AIDS, directed by Peter Chappell and Catherine Peix. The Origins of AIDS premieres on February 7th at 9:00pm. The deal was negotiated by Christian Vesper, Vice President Acquisitions, Sundance Channel and by Julie Goldman, Cactus Three on behalf of the filmmakers.

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Prix Europa

Prix Europa Current Affairs Television Programme of the Year, 2004

The MFP/Galafilm production, “The Origins of AIDS”, has just won another major prize, which was awarded in Berlin on Saturday October 23rd. Apparently the Prix Europa is reckoned by most people in the film world to rank second only to an Emmy.

To quote part of the jury’s commendation: “[T]his film…..makes us think about how little we know about our “current affairs” and how deeply we trust in what science and scientists tell us.”

The following is the full text, which has just been posted on the Prix Europa web-site.

Edward Hooper, October 25th, 2004



1. PRIX EUROPA Television Programme of the Year 2004 / Fernsehprogramm des Jahres 2004

Donated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe / Gestiftet von der Parlamentarischen Versammlung des Europarates

The origins of AIDS / Les origines du Sida

France 2, France; by/von: Stéphane Horel, Peter Chappell (authors), Catherine Peix, Peter Chappell (directors), Peter Chappell, Peter Krieger, Jorge Martinho (camera), Christine Le Goff, Arnie Gelbart, Christine Pireaux (producers), co-produced by Galafilm, Pathé Archives, Les Films de la Passerelle, RTBF, Prod.+, France 2


Prix Europa Television Programme of the Year 2004

For all the professionals sitting on the panel this film was a revelation of sorts reaffirming their belief in the power and in the meaning of television at the beginning of a new millennium. A sensational 90 minutes long film – without even the traces of chasing sensation. Instead: we get facts. Well researched facts. Opinions. Well founded opinions. And questions – very well thought out questions, pushing the story to its limits. And not only the story: the viewers as well. Because this film takes us along and makes us think about how little we know about our “current affairs” and how deeply we trust in what science and scientists tell us. For all jury members this was the first television program about AIDS that did not mention homosexuality, drugs or prostitution. Instead: a film about “The Origins of AIDS”, entered by France 2, produced by Multimedia France.

Emmy Nomination for “The Origins of AIDS”

On October 4th, 2004, it was announced that the MFP/Galafilm documentary, “The Origins of AIDS”, had been shortlisted for an International Emmy in the “best documentary” category. This follows a series of other awards that the film has won at film festivals around the world.

While the Emmy nomination is clearly a tribute to the skills of the film-makers, rather than to the viability of the OPV/AIDS hypothesis per se, this honour comes at a particularly ironical time – in the midst of a new legal onslaught by doctors Koprowski and Plotkin, who are seeking to dissuade television companies and film festivals from showing the film. [See separate article: “The New Round of Legal Threats by Doctors Koprowski and Plotkin”.]

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Obituary for Maria Luisa Bozzi, 1939-2004

It is with great sadness that I have to report the death, in Torino, Italy on May 11th, 2004, of Bill Hamilton’s partner of his last six years, Maria Luisa Bozzi.

Following an operation on her lungs some twenty years ago, Luisa (as she was known to her friends) had suffered from asthma, and it is believed that she may have suffered a massive asthma attack in the moments before she died. An autopsy was conducted, and the results will be announced in due course.

Luisa Bozzi was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, just after the outbreak of the Second World War. She graduated in biology from Torino University in the early sixties, and conducted research in several different countries around the world during the next three decades. In her later years, she also became a science journalist, and a writer of scientific text books.

Luisa met Bill Hamilton during one of his many research trips to the Amazon in 1994 (some months after Bill and his wife Christine had separated), and they immediately became close. (This in itself was unusual, for Bill did not normally encourage the presence of women on his expeditions and safaris.) Almost immediately, Luisa became involved with Bill’s other scientific work, most particularly in the over-riding preoccupation of his final years: the origins of HIV and the AIDS pandemic.

At the start of the year 2000, Luisa and Bill were preparing to set up house together in the New Forest, and so it came as an overwhelming shock to Luisa when, in late January, Bill suddenly collapsed. This happened the day after he returned from his second expedition to the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which he had tried to obtain faecal and urine samples from wild chimpanzees, to test for the presence of simian immunodeficiency virus. Bill spent six weeks in a coma and died in early March.

Although Luisa took a long time to come to terms with Bill’s tragic and unexpected death, it was only a few weeks after his demise that she felt she needed to become more actively involved in the origins of AIDS debate. At Bill’s memorial service, it became clear that some of his former Oxford colleagues were trying to reinvent his role in that debate, presenting him as a concerned neutral who merely felt that all hypotheses deserved to be tested. As the months passed, Luisa took it upon herself to read all of Bill’s documents and correspondence on the subject, which helped confirm her own belief that, at the time of his death, he had been “95% persuaded” that the OPV/AIDS hypothesis had merit.

In September 2001, she gave a moving speech entitled “Truth and science: Bill Hamilton’s legacy” at the Lincei conference on “Origin of HIV and Emerging Persistent Viruses”. [Atti dei Convegni Lincei; 2003; 187; 21-26; see this web-site.] The speech emphasised Bill’s support of the OPV theory, and the importance that he had always placed on openness and integrity in science. It was a quiet yet powerful warning to those who had attempted to misrepresent his position on this issue.

Following the Lincei conference Luisa continued to defend both Bill’s and my work on the origins debate. I spoke with her twice on the phone during her final few days, and she was unusually forthright about some of the alleged “refutations” of the OPV/AIDS theory which had appeared in major scientific journals. She was particularly disappointed that some of those scientists who had offered to collaborate with Bill on his final research in the Congo had either failed to test the resulting samples, or had failed to honour promises to share those samples with labs from both sides of the increasingly heated debate. There may be a time when it is appropriate for me to quote some of Luisa’s final thoughts on this subject, but it is not now.

Luisa Bozzi had many hidden strengths, not least her quiet wisdom. Though her manner was unassuming, she was in fact fiercely honest and loyal, and – like Bill – found spin, misrepresentation and “economies with the truth” almost impossible to tolerate. With regard to the origins debate, she had a very firm grasp of the issues, and was a particular source of strength to me personally, for her willingness to analyse not only the latest scientific developments, but also the political and emotional undercurrents that so often swirled beneath.

Luisa was also an enormously warm, kind and generous person, and it is for these reasons, above all others, that she will be profoundly missed by those who knew and loved her.

She leaves one son, Marco, a trainee architect.

Edward Hooper. May 17th, 2004.

Comments on Worobey et al.’s Supplementary Information and Map

The supplementary information and map that Nature has just posted are rather interesting.

Worobey et al. observe that the RNA-later they used to preserve most of the year 2000 urine samples (from the Wanie-Rukula region) doesn’t normally allow immunoblot analysis, but they managed to get past that by special procedures, and repeatedly detected p24 (a core protein of immunodeficiency viruses) in two of the ten samples. Does this perhaps suggest that if ideal procedures had been used, they would have detected p24 in more than 20% of the animals? I don’t know. However, Worobey et al.’s comment about urine antibody profiles and PCR confirmation of infection in Gombe Stream, Tanzania, implies (at the least) that many of the chimps showing the p24 profile on immunoblot analysis of urine are genuinely SIV-infected.

Interestingly, neither in the main paper, nor in the supplementary information, do Worobey et al. report on the immunoblot results on the 36 urine samples collected from further south-east (Obiatuku and Parisi) in 2003.

Note that Worobey et al. detected only one PCR-positive animal out of a total of 34+97 = 131 chimp faecal samples tested in 2000 and 2003. This is a much lower rate of detection, even when (as in 2000), samples appear to have been taken from the same (presumably infected) troupe. This suggests that either their preserving methods for faeal samples, or their methods of extracting SIV from faeces collected in the field, may have been less than ideal.

It’s worth remembering that Santiago and Sharp, using PCR amplification at Gombe Stream in Tanzania, detected SIV in 13% of faecal samples obtained from three wild troupes of Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii (Pts). Because they were at Jane Goodall’s camp, rather than truly “in the bush”, it may be that their preservation methods were more effective.

One of the arguments which people like Beatrice Hahn and Bette Korber have used to try to disprove the OPV theory has been to claim that not only is Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii (Pts) the “wrong subspecies” of chimp [this argument is addressed elsewhere], but that the rate of SIV infection in wild Pts chimps is low. This claim would appear to be incorrect. In reality, it would appear that in those chimp troupes which are infected, SIV infection rates are fairly high. Although none of the Ugandan chimps sampled in the Budongo Forest was found to be SIV-infected, Santiago and Sharp’s figure of 13% SIV infection in the wild Gombe chimps should probably be used as the benchmark for Pts infection in infected troupes, at least for the time being. With regard to Worobey et al.’s results, all one can say is that their results on the year 2000 urine samples imply (but of course do not confirm) a similar infection rate in the DRC.

It needs to be pointed out that the Parisi forest, where Worobey et al. sampled the infected chimp that gave the partial SIV sequence, is about 130 kilometres south-east of Kisangani (as the crow flies), and is not known to be one of the areas where they collected chimps for Lindi camp in the 1950s. However, the Lindi chimp-catcher Gilbert Rollais was based for several months at Wanie-Rukula, 50 kms SE of Kisangani. This means that the chimps sampled during the Bill Hamilton expedition of January 2000 (which came from the forest to the immediate north and east of Wanie Rukula) are more relevant to the events at Lindi.

Inaccuracies and Errors in Press Statements

Inaccuracies and errors in press statements released by doctors Stanley Plotkin and Hilary Koprowski at the Royal Society meeting on “The Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic”, on September 11, 2000

Edward Hooper. December 5, 2000.
Slightly updated and revised on June 14, 2001.

Like many other speakers at the Royal Society conference on “The Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic” (myself included) doctors Plotkin and Koprowski later revised their oral presentations for the published proceedings, which are about to appear as Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, B; 2001; Volume 356, pp. 778-977.

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New York Times Letter (1)

Challenging a Theory
To the Editor:

The Doctor’s World column “New Book Challenges Theories of AIDS Origin” on Nov. 30 describes the hypothesis that H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, was initially transmitted to humans during the first large-scale trials of oral polio vaccine in what was then the Belgian Congo. Although we are not named in the article, it is common knowledge in the scientific community that we conducted those trials. The hypothesis is based on the suggestion in a recently published book that we used chimpanzee cells to prepare the vaccine, and that these cells were, unknown to us, contaminated with a precursor of the human AIDS virus.

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