Tuesday, April 26, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | South Africa's broken HIV promises

After Thabo Mbeki finally made a policy u-turn and accepted that Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARD) are effective in lengthening the lives of HIV and AIDS victims, we now have the menace of 'well-meaning' foundations pushing the effectiveness of vitamin regimes and highlighting the side-effects of the ARD.

All this is in light of the overall debate that goes on in South Africa over the very nature of these drugs. The problem then is that while debate is good, wilfull blindness is not. And it basically allows other organisations to come in and feed on the unarticulated fear of these ARD.

To quote the BBC, "Over recent months a company that sells vitamin supplements based in Holland, called the Matthias Rath Foundation, has taken out adverts in South African newspapers and put posters up near HIV treatment centres stressing what it says are the dangerous side effects of ARVs."

Now, if these regimes were really as effective as ARD, then I suppose no one would really quibble over what they are doing per se. But the problem is that they are not! At best, they help the body's immune system but unlike the ARD they cannot retard the spread of HIV into full-blown AIDS. Of course taking them together is not likely to hurt, but what is hurting are people scared off the ARD because of these side effects.

All drugs have side effects of one form or other unfortunately. While it is one thing to be aware of them (something I'm entirely for in the name of consumer/patient awareness), the problem is that all too many people simply reject the drugs and not consider whether the 'harm' of the side effects outweigh the 'harm' of not taking the drugs. In the aftermath of Vioxx and Cox-2 inhibitors in general, the fear has gotten worse. In that specific case, while I generally agree that the majority of pain sufferers have viable alternatives, these alternatives are not sufficient to deal with those who have serious pain issues.

However in this case, the Matthias Rath Foundation seems to disturbingly be pushing its own products at the health and expense of their patients. 'Dangerous' side effects or not, considering the ineffectiveness of vitamin regimes, the patient is essentially forfeiting a good many years in return for what? Unlike chemotherapy with truely horrible side effects (admittedly varying from person to person) and where the prognosis can make a rejection of treatment logical, not taking ARD is nowhere similar to that scale.

ARDs work. Peace.


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