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For 25 years, the ARV drug business went unchallenged in court. Why?

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Over the past 25 years, the influence of the media and their propaganda about the life-saving benefits of ARVs as the only approved drugs – portrayed as the so-called “gold standard” of treatment - has been steadily pervasive. Newspapers such as The Guardian, for example, persistently make the claim that AZT has “stopped HIV from being an automatic death sentence.”

At the same time however, the benefits from safer alternative/complementary treatments such as micronutrients have – almost without exception – been disregarded. The stance of the Guardian’s columnist Ben Goldacre typifies that of many medically-orientated journalists in this regard. Writing in February 2007, Goldacre dismissed the role of micronutrients in the control of HIV/AIDS by saying that “[g]ood nutrition is important, but vitamin C is unlikely to prove to be better than medication.” Moreover, whilst he simultaneously admitted that AZT “has serious side-effects,” he glibly described any idea that vitamin C might be better than AZT as “bizarre.”

Due in no small part to superficial and inaccurate journalistic analyses such as these, advances in micronutrient therapy for the control of HIV/AIDS have remained largely buried in the scientific literature and public awareness of the potential benefits in HIV/AIDS treatment continues to be poor.

Despite the fact that laboratory research studies published in peer-reviewed journals have shown that vitamin C suppresses HIV activation in latently or chronically-infected cells and that AZT has no significant anti-HIV effect, the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre, above, deliberately dismisses such research as “the behaviour of some cells in a dish.” In reality however, any treatment – even those that Goldacre is openly biased towards, such as AZT – starts out this way before it can be given to humans in a clinical trial.

However – and despite the protestations to the contrary by Goladacre and others – this does not mean that all research into the use of micronutrients for the control of HIV/AIDS can simply be dismissed as “bad science.”

For example, laboratory research studies published in peer-reviewed journals have compared the anti-HIV effects of vitamin C to AZT and have shown that whereas vitamin C suppresses HIV activation in latently or chronically-infected cells, AZT has no significant anti-HIV effect.

Whilst journalists such as Goldacre dismissively describe such studies as “the behaviour of some cells in a dish,” it is important to understand that such research is necessary prior to treating HIV in humans as it provides a rationale for clinical evaluation. In fact, any treatment – even those that Goldacre is openly biased towards, such as AZT – starts out this way before it can be given to humans in a clinical trial.

So, therefore, simply because vitamin C and other micronutrients have not been compared to ARV drugs in large-scale double-blind randomised placebo-controlled studies, this does not mean that there are no grounds for doing so. In fact when vitamin C and other micronutrients were evaluated in their own right in controlled clinical studies they were found to confer positive benefits in AIDS.

In reality, the reasons one would perform a clinical study are apparent in the aforementioned laboratory studies, which have provided a compelling rationale for such testing. However, since vitamin C is a simple, inexpensive nutrient and not a patentable drug with profit-generating potential, there has been little interest in testing it clinically and comparing its effectiveness to that of ARV drugs. This is unfortunate as – given the clear immunological and clinical limitations of ARV drugs and their widely known “serious side-effects” – it keeps a potential non-toxic treatment from being further evaluated against a deadly life-threatening disease.

Given these facts, it is hardly surprising that large-scale double-blind randomised placebo-controlled studies are funded only by pharmaceutical companies and in situations where there exists the possibility of recouping their research and development costs through exploitation of a resulting patented drug treatment.

As such, it can be seen that the nutrient community health program involving people living with AIDS in South Africa – organized and conducted by the South African National Civic Organization (SANCO) using micronutrients provided free of charge by the Dr. Rath Health Foundation – effectively constitutes the largest scale program of its kind carried out since the AIDS epidemic began. During the course of this program, once it became clear that the course of AIDS can be reversed naturally, for the first time in 25 years there existed the possibility of challenging the multi-billion dollar ARV business in a court of law. When the Guardian published three articles defaming Dr. Rath, the moment to do so had arrived.

Prior to this, the focus of the pharma business was on developing new drugs aimed at lowering viral load, the surrogate marker for AIDS treatment. No one questioned this approach because many drugs were approved based on this biomarker. However, the correlation between viral load and disease progression has come into question, raising doubts about the value of ARVs in stopping or reversing the course of AIDS.