Vital Information Missing in the Documentary House of Numbers

By: Myles Power Edited by: Hannah & James Gurney
house of numbers
I recently watched a documentary film suggested by one of my subscribers called 'House of Numbers'. The documentary consists of interviews with scientists and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) denialists, discussing the link between the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS, the severity of AIDS in South Africa and, unbelievably, whether or not HIV exists at all. The film was directed and produced by, and starred, Canadian-born Brent Leung (a psychology graduate from the University of British Columbia). The documentary is poor, even from a technical standpoint. It is poorly organised, unfocussed and repeatedly - and comedically - punctuated by clips of Brent in strange locations. Brent's level of knowledge and understanding, and that of some of the people featured in the film, is comical bordering on the absurd. At one point Brent implied that the only proof we have for the existence of the HIV is pictures of the virus. In the future I am going to talk about some of the scientific inaccuracies of the documentary but first I would like to talk about a woman who featured in the film and how it shows Brent's dishonesty.
house of numbers
The documentary stars a woman named Christine Maggiore who tested positive for HIV in 1992. In the movie, Christine talks about her experiences with HIV tests and HIV medication. She casts a shadow on the HIV test by saying, "How can we say that HIV is the cause of AIDS when we don't know, based on current tests, whether or not any one diagnosed positive actually has HIV?" and later encourages other people who have tested positive for HIV to stop taking medication, as she believes it caused the death of eight of her coworkers.
"I remember in 1992 when I first tested positive, I became involved in an organisation woman at risk. There were eleven of us at the time on the board and involved in the group. All of us except three were on the medication. In the year and a half I was involved with women at risk, every single woman in that organisation on the drugs died. Every single one. Except the three of use who were not taking them." - Christine Maggiore

house of numbers 2
Now Christine has no medical or scientific background, which begs the question why is she the one in this movie saying that you should stop taking HIV medication altogether? It probably has something to do with the fact that no one with a medical or scientific background would ever say something so stupid and dangerous. At first I thought it was very cruel of Brent to have Christine in this film. She came across as an uninformed, scared woman, who was simultaneously trying to make sense of what was happening to her and then, conflictingly, trying to pretend nothing was. Her segments were emotionally charged and at one part she broke down into tears from a mixture of sadness and frustration whilst talking about questions she believed were unanswered about HIV. It almost seemed as if she was some random person that Brent picked up off the street to be in his documentary. Although Christine was saying the most horrific and dangerous things on film, part of me felt sorry for her. All that quickly changed when I decided to do a little research on her.

Christine was not some random uninformed woman off of the street. She was the founder of the AIDS denialist organisation, Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives. The organisation believes that AIDS is not a major problem in Africa and that the current epidemic is nothing more than fearmongering by the pharmaceutical industry. They also believe that HIV tests are inaccurate and helped develop legal strategies for 50 HIV positive mothers to avoid having their children tested or treated for HIV. Unlike a lot of people with crazy views out there, Christine stood by hers. Whilst pregnant, Christine refused to take antiretroviral medication which would have reduced the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV during her pregnancies. She also breast-fed her children even though she was aware of studies that show that HIV can be transmitted from mother to child through breastfeeding. She also refused to get her children tested for HIV. She publicly stated on American TV that both of her children had “excellent records of health” and “they’ve never had respiratory problems, flues, intractable cold, ear infections, nothing. So, our choices, however radical they may seem, are extremely well-founded.” Seven weeks after making these statements her daughter died from an AIDS related illness.

house of numbers 5
An autopsy on the dead three-year-old revealed that her thymus (a specialised organ of the immune system) was wasting away, which is consistent with clinical and morphologic studies of HIV damages to the organ. P24 capsize protein (a component of the HIV particle capsid) was discovered in her brain tissue and she was underweight and under height, which is consistent with chronic illness. The coroner (James Ribe) concluded that she had died of Pneumocystis pneumonia in the setting of advanced AIDS.
As you can imagine, Christine was not happy with the findings of the coroner and despite being shown a tape of the coroner explaining his findings, Christine refused to believe that her daughter died of AIDS. She is quoted as saying, “I am a devastated, broken, grieving mother, but I am not second-guessing or questioning my understanding of the issue.” Christine had the autopsy reviewed by a fellow AIDS denialist, Dr Mohammed Al-Bayati, who is author of the book ‘Get the Facts; HIV Does Not Cause AIDS’. He concluded that  her daughter died from an allergic reaction to amoxicillin. It should be noted here that Dr Mohammed Al-Bayati is not a medical doctor, nor is he board-certified in human pathology – he has a Ph.D in animal disease pathology. The fact that she was willing to believe a vet instead of medical professionals shows how desperate she was to be told that the death of her child was not her fault. The results of the autopsy have since been presented to an independent medical examiner who agreed with Ribe that AIDS, not amoxicillin, killed the three-year-old.
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This all happened in 2005, four years before the movie was released and before she was interviewed for it. The woman we are seeing on film has not only lost a child to AIDS but was responsible for her increased risk, lack of diagnosis and lack of treatment. Yet unbelievably, here she is saying that you should stop taking medication and that there is no link between HIV and AIDS. The fact that she has the balls to be in this documentary and to continue giving out the same dangerous advice that contributed to her own daughter’s death, leads me to believe that she is broken.
The death of Christine’s daughter was a huge story nationwide in America and in the following years, Christine and her husband faced legal action and accusations of child endangerment. There is no doubt in my mind that Brent must have been aware of the death of Christine’s daughter, yet this vital piece of information was missing from his documentary. It shows that Brent has no conscience and that he has cherry picked the evidence to back up his predetermined views on HIV/AIDS. It shows that this documentary is not (as Brent said) an “objective examination of the idea the HIV causes AIDS”, but is instead a distortion of reality that can – and probably has – lead to the death and suffering of many innocent people.
I know now that some of you reading this will be saying, “Myles, never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” It’s true that Brent could be one of the stupidest documentary film makers out there. It is possible that he took Christine’s claims at face value and did not do any background check or further research of her claims. He could truly believe that coming off of HIV medication can help you live a long and healthy life because he has not seen any evidence that contradicts Christine’s story. The last 10 seconds of the documentary show that Brent was aware of the dangers of coming off of the medication and that he willingly leaves out yet more vital information that contradicted his ludicrous theories. The credits end saying, “The filmmakers acknowledge with sadness the passing of three generous contributors to House of Numbers before the completion of the film” and list three names followed by the line, “Their deaths were unrelated to HIV.” One of the people listed was Christine Maggiore whose death certificate states that the cause of death was disseminated herpes virus infection and bilateral pneumonia, with oral candidiasis as a contributing cause, all of which can be related to HIV infection.
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So to recap, the woman who Brent had in his film telling people to come off of HIV medication and who cast a shadow on HIV tests, had a daughter who died before the documentary had even been filmed, from an AIDS related illness. The woman herself then also died from AIDS related illnesses, ahead of the film’s release. All of this vital information is missing in the main dialogue of the film and the only reference to Christine’s death is in the final 10 seconds of the credits. I honestly don’t know how Brent sleeps at night knowing that he has made this film.
About Myles Power (392 Articles)
My name is Myles Power, and I run the educational YouTube channel, powerm1985. I spend what little free time I have sharing my love of SCIENCE! through home experiments, visiting sites of scientific interest, and angrily ranting at pseudoscience proponents. I am also one of the founding members of the podcast 'The League of Nerds' - which I co-host with James from 'The History of Infection'.

3 Comments on Vital Information Missing in the Documentary House of Numbers

  1. Hold on, I remember the massive scare of the mid 1980s. I was 24 at the time and was convinced I would be dead within a few years such was the hype. I am heterosexual. HIV was and is supposed to be a equal opportunities virus, it favours no one and was supposed to decimate the western world. It didn’t. So why not? Clearly the threat was wildly overblown. There are many leading scientists , including nobel prize winners, who contend it has not even been isolated let alone been identitied to man as a mortal threat. I would agree. The only deniers here are the cretins incapable of questioning the evidence in front of their own eyes.


  2. Hmm, the only sane comments here are from 2015. Interesting…


  3. Let’s just stop for a minute and read the Maggiore quote again. Where does she advise that people stop taking HIV/AIDS medications? It seems to me that she shared an anecdote, and people are welcome to draw conclusions from it if they wish. Then, regarding this unquoted recommendation that Maggiore supposedly gives to people, recommending they quit their medications, you wrote, “…why is she the one in this movie saying that you should stop taking HIV medication altogether? It probably has something to do with the fact that no one with a medical or scientific background would ever say something so stupid and dangerous.”

    Well, what do you make of Peter Duesberg telling that couple in the documentary who adopted the little girl to stop AZT immediately? He’s certainly someone with a medical, scientific background. You can call him a quack if you want, but you can’t say that no one with a medical or scientific background would ever say something like that… because (for whatever reason) someone did… Peter Duesberg.

    Reality check: I’m not an HIV/AIDS denier. I’m just a guy who likes strong, logical positions. I didn’t drink down “House of Numbers” as gospel truth, but it did give me serious food for thought.


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