by Cornelis Rijneveld, PhD candidate
You may have heard of the MIT PhD who claimed one can kill the coronavirus with a hairdryer. Although the video has since been removed from YouTube in an effort to clamp down on pandemic-related fake news, Dr Shiva Ayyadurai elaborates here on his allegation that that the virus has been spread by the Deep State, which includes big pharma, philanthropists, the U.S. Government and international agencies like the WHO (even though the latter two don’t seem to get along as of late).
Ayyadurai himself challenged the Establishment when he ran against Elizabeth Warren in the 2018 Senate election as a Republican candidate in Massachusetts because ‘only a real Indian can defeat a fake indian’ (touché). The self-proclaimed inventor of email argued Warren was part of a ‘neo-caste system’ whose top layers comprised academics, lobbyists, lawyers and career politicians – another clever rhetorical move given Ayyadurai’s references to his own underprivileged caste background, giving him slightly more underdog-cred than, say, an orange billionaire. In line with this now-familiar populist rhetoric, Ayyadurai’s agenda revolved around secure borders and ending the sort of policies that helped his own family move to the U.S. when he was a kid. But perhaps his tough stance on immigration was a crowd-pleasing pledge that might help Ayyadurai achieve his real objective: ending ‘pay-to-play’ science research.
According to Ayyadurai, the imperative to market new drugs – and particularly vaccines – is the driving impulse behind our disease scholarship and definitions. It is because pharmaceutical interests dominate research and global policy agendas that we think of Ayyadurai as fringe figures (and not because he falsely claims to have invented e-mail). If the public understood that our sugar-heavy, vitamin-scarce diets and sedentary, indoor lifestyles were the real causes of modern ill-health and morbidity, the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry would collapse overnight. Ayyadurai backs up this theory with research about the immune system and nutrition published in bioengineering journals (mainstream medical journals are controlled by big pharma).
The main villain in the conspiracy of silence around these kinds of insights about immunity is National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director & ‘Deep State Implant’ Dr. Fauci, who allegedly helped bring Covid-19 to the U.S. only to blow it up as a dangerous epidemic. This is the same man, Ayyadurai points out, who popularized the ‘myth’ that the HIV virus leads to AIDS. (Interestingly, Dr. Fauci was also the bad guy in the story of ACT UP’s sustained campaign for accelerated treatment research, although for very different reasons.) Gay men were dying as a result of the combined effect of partying and promiscuity on their immune-system, not because of Aids, argues Ayyadurai in the video, summarizing a theory that gained some traction with the emergence of ‘non-progressors’ (HIV-positive people who don’t develop Aids within ten years of their infection) following the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in the mid-90s.
Maybe it’s because of all the gay group sex and my resultant diminished immunity, but I have a slightly allergic response to Aids denialism. An ugly part of me wishes the likes of Ayyadurai contract HIV and find out for themselves whether or not it leads to Aids. But the inner anthropologist protests I must suspend judgement lest it clouds my understanding of the phenomenon at hand.
It was in this spirit of relativism that one muggy day in February this year I went to meet a Mumbai-based ‘natural scientist’ who, for legal reasons, I shall give the pseudonym ‘Doctor Who’. Dr. Who had encouraged a friend of mine to gradually reduce her ART intake and substitute it for nano-silver treatment, all while boosting her natural immunity with ‘intra-cellular’ nutrition supplements (for sale at the clinic’s pharmacy). My curiosity was piqued. Though I knew I would not be able to use the experience in my PhD – covert research is a big no-no in Social Science – I decided to book a consultation.
In the clinic’s oddly retro, wood-panelled waiting room, I filled out a screening form listing aging ailments intended to persuade the visitor he has what one leaflet described as ‘Andropause’ (you guessed it- menopause for men). Under the rubric ‘Chronic Health/Beauty Challenges I Would Like To Overcome’ I scribbled ‘HIV/AIDS’. The clinic’s online and off-line reading material does not promise a cure for HIV/Aids, which would be illegal. I signed a long legal disclaimer, thus assuming “all responsibilities for my actions today and recogniz[ing] that all others are harmless.” (For the record: encouraring people to interrupt their HIV treatment is far from harmless, as this may lead to drug-resistance and reduced life expectancy).
After some questioning (I presume to ascertain I wasn’t doing a covert investigation), Dr. Who explained that HIV – ‘like this Coronavirus everyone is talking about’ – is just another virus. The challenge is to boost our immune-system, battered by the poor lifestyle of modern urban dwellers. Pulling up articles published in bioengineering journals, Dr. Who also argued that nano-silver is proven to control HIV because the silver particles are able to enter the infected cell and destroy the virus, whereas ART can only inhibit its spread. Big Pharma is of course set on supressing this information through the self-serving research it funds, lest silver treatments priced at ten rupees a patient start competing with expensive, patented antiretrovirals. “You must understand one thing – the world runs on money.”
Dr Who told me he had offered to donate his silver treatment to government hospitals but was turned away because there were supposedly no Aids patients in Mumbai. “Can you believe that!?” What I could not believe, in fact, is that doctors would have made that claim, so I asked whether Dr. Who had gone to any of the overcrowded Aids wards that the government’s National Aids Control Organization had instituted in the main public hospitals. Instead of answering, Dr. Who responded to my question with a rhetorical one. “How come you are a PhD student who has been infected for fifteen months,” he said, sounding less than sympathetic, “and you’ve never researched alternatives to what the mainstream medical establishment tells you?”
The snootiness with which I entered the clinic had given way to a disorienting cocktail of confusion, anger, and hope by the time I left the premises. Was my scepticism a product of Western epistemological hegemony? Or perhaps it was a by-product of an unquestioning faith in medical authority, so different from early Aids activism’s DIY approach to science and treatment? If information about the harmful effects of smoking and climate change had previously been supressed by powerful industries… could there be a cure? Dr. Who’s strategy of exploiting existing structures of stigma and pharmaceutical profiteering had been partially successful. But while Big Pharma and Dr. Fauci may not have my best interests at heart, I remained pretty sure Dr. Who – who, by the way, charges around 8 lakh INR or USD 10,000 a year for a treatment he himself said costs no more than ten cents a patient – did not either. (Also, I kept reminding myself he also claims he can stop the aging process and…Andropause.)
I brought up my experience with an interviewee who used to work for the Lawyer’s Collective’s HIV/Aids Unit, which collaborated with local networks of people living with HIV to bring quacks to court. The expert on medical ethics laughed heartily. “There was a guy in Kerala like that,” she said, referring to Tamtan Abdul Majeed. Majeed’s ‘Immuno-QR’ income made him Kerala’s highest tax payer in 1998 before the former gold-miner was ordered to stop the manufacture and sale of this bogus Aids cure in 2007. “He built himself a bungalow on a beach near Kochi and called it Virus. Full psycho.”
I’m no expert, but the recipe for successful conspiracy theory appears to be something like this: take a few truths – shameless pharmaceutical profiteering, for example, or the fact that processed foods aren’t very healthy; add a generous pinch of legitimate emotions like anger, hope, or frustration; and then – just before serving – mix in something totally wack like reptiles or Aids-denial.
Yesterday I watched an interview with Bill Gates and Trevor Noah, in which the billionaire explains that his philanthropic foundation has started to invest heavily into the search for a Covid-19 vaccine. Noah points out, jokingly, that Mr. Gates’ prediction of an imminent pandemic in a Ted Talk sparked wild conspiracy theories. Predictably, the interview itself provided ample fuel for further speculation. With its connections to UN health bodies, the WHO and the health departments of countries all over the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation embodies Ayyadurai’s ‘Deep State’ .
But we don’t have to believe Bill Gates helped create Covid-19 to appreciate how his model of private-public partnership for biomedical solutions to public health problems benefits pharmaceutical companies and, in turn, possibly the Foundation itself. Lindsey McGoey explains the logic and infrastructure behind the Foundation’s ‘philanthro-capitalism’ in No Such Thing As A Free Gift – but who wants to read that when you can watch Ayyadurai claim that hairdryers offer a cure to Covid-19 on YouTube instead!
I shall end this blogpost by suggesting we draw a lesson from the history of Aids activism. This one is called ‘How To Stand Up Against Big Pharma, Biomedicine And Dr. Fauci Without Totally Losing The Plot’.