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HIV sceptics' data 'half truth'

THE director of Australia's central HIV-testing laboratory has accused a group of HIV sceptics - whose testimony is helping the appeal of a man convicted of deliberately infecting women with the virus - of presenting "half-truths" and outdated science.

Labelling as a "travesty" the group's claims that HIV has never been properly identified and that HIV-tests are inadequate, Elizabeth Dax yesterday called on the Perth Group to "move on".

Dr Dax, director of the National Serology Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, said the Perth Group's testimony in the Adelaide trial of Andre Chad Parenzee was "half truth".

"Their information is incomplete - some of the transcript starts out to be true but then is cordoned off from the vast amount of scientific evidence," she said. "It may have been true in part in 1983, but they have never moved on. But we have moved on and I think we should all move on."

Dr Dax was the third of what will be up to eight witnesses for the prosecution to debunk the evidence of the Perth Group, led by medical physicist Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos.

Parenzee was diagnosed HIV-positive eight years ago but did not tell three women with whom he had sexual relationships.

One of them contracted the virus and last year Parenzee was convicted on three counts of endangering life. He is in jail awaiting sentence.

Court of Criminal Appeal judge John Sulan must decide whether to refer the conviction of Parenzee, 36, to the full court for an appeal. It would then decide if the Perth Group's testimony warranted a retrial.

Dr Dax's laboratory is the peak body in charge of the quality and accuracy of Australia's HIV testing and screening. She rejected testimony by the Perth Group's Val Turner that there was no "gold standard" available with which to compare HIV test results.

She said the genetic sequence of HIV was used to identify the retro-virus, among other direct methods of detecting it.

She said the scientific paper quoted by Dr Turner to support his claim was written in 1989 - before the development of fast methods of identifying the virus.

One US-based HIV sceptic, Michael Geiger, told The Australian yesterday that the claim in the case that HIV "didn't exist" was beside the point.

Instead, the court should be focusing on whether HIV caused AIDS - a point about which there was considerable doubt, hesaid.

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