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. Experts Warn On Gambia AIDS Cure

"The International AIDS Society," Pedro Cahn said, "urges its worldwide membership to hold their governments to account for unproven claims of AIDS cures. We advise healthcare workers and policymakers throughout the world to continue to implement antiretroviral treatment programs for all who need them, and to clarify the proven dangers of stopping antiretrovirals, including the risk of disease progression and the development of drug resistance."
by Ed Susman
UPI Medical Correspondent
West Palm Beach FL (UPI) April 24, 2007
Officials of the International AIDS Society Tuesday urged caution over reports that treatment derived from natural herbs in Gambia can cure AIDS. The purported cure is administered directly to the patients by the president of Gambia, an African nation with a population of 1.6 million.

"It is premature and unethical to label this product a cure if it has not been thoroughly tested and proven," said Pedro Cahn, president of the IAS in Geneva.

"Furthermore, to take patients off potent combination antiretroviral therapy, which has saved millions of lives since its introduction in 1996, is shocking and irresponsible."

In the treatment, which has been administered to 38 patients with human immunodeficiency virus, the microbe that causes AIDS, President Yahya Jammeh rubs an herbal paste on the abdomen of the patient and then offers a bitter yellowish drink.

In a report on Jammeh's Web site, he is quoted as saying that the HIV/AIDS virus is easy to cure, but secondary illnesses such as diabetes and tuberculosis make treatment more difficult.

"What we are doing here is to get rid of the virus from your system. If someone has diabetes or TB, it is very difficult to get rid of the HIV virus. Where a person is suffering from TB and it is chronic, as you are fighting the HIV virus, the TB also fights the CD4 counts of that particular individual."

Calls by United Press International to the Embassy of Gambia in Washington were not returned.

While under treatment at the government complex in Banjul, the capital of the nation surrounded on three sides by Senegal on the west coast of Africa, patients must pledge not to smoke, steal or have sex. "If you are not serious, we will kick you out and take in other patients. Remember that you have come for treatment, and the medication you hate is the most effective. If you comply with all these, we will be able to treat you," Jammeh told patients.

The contention that Jammed has found a cure for HIV/AIDS has been greeted with skepticism. In a statement to UPI, Cahn said, "Pharmaceutical and traditional medicines have benefited many people with various medical conditions across the world.

"All products that show promise in the treatment or eradication of HIV should be rigorously studied. The Gambian government has characterized criticism of its herbal treatment as 'anti-African.' This is not at all the case. The IAS believes that all reasonable approaches should be scientifically evaluated, including the current Gambian treatment being billed as a 'cure.'"

Previous reports said that blood samples from patients under Jammeh's care had been analyzed by laboratories in Senegal and that the patients did not have detectable viral loads. That position was clarified by Souleymane Mboup, professor of medicine at the University of Dakar in Senegal. Mboup is the former regional representative for Africa on the IAS Governing Council and is chair of the 2008 International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa.

In a statement released by the IAS, Mboup said, "The interpretation by the Gambian authorities of the results of HIV antibody and viral load testing on blood samples sent to my laboratory is incorrect. Firstly, the results were obtained under false pretenses, when a technician approached us asking for training on our equipment because he had problems operating the equipment in his laboratory. We agreed, and in this process, he asked us to test some anonymous samples, which we later learned were from patients who had received President Jammeh's treatment.

"Of those samples that were HIV-positive -- 66.66 percent -- none could be described as cured. Viral load was detectable in most cases. In some samples, viral load measures were below the level detectable by the tests. This is not surprising, since these patients had been treated with antiretrovirals prior to the administration of the herbal treatment," Mboup said.

"Effective antiretroviral therapy can reduce HIV viral load to below levels of detection. However, extensive research over many years has shown that, even in patients whose HIV viral load is undetectable by standard testing measures, with further specific DNA and RNA testing, HIV can be found in the tissues of all patients.

"There is no known cure for AIDS," Mboup said. "Under no circumstances may the tests conducted in my laboratory be used as proof of an alleged cure for HIV. For the results to be used in this way, tests must be conducted before, during and after treatment. International rules regulate the conducting of trials in order to prove therapeutic efficacy."

In Gambia, a country best known in the United States as the birthplace of the slave Kunta Kinte in the saga "Roots," Tamsir Mbowe, the nation's secretary of state for health and social welfare, said 107 patients were registered for the treatment by Jammeh, but after a series of laboratory and physical examinations, 38 were selected to start the treatment.

"The others," Mbowe said, "will join the batch later." He then called on Gambians to go for voluntary counseling and testing. "This will help in the management of patients affected and infected with the virus," he noted. About 1.3 percent of the people in Gambia are believed infected with HIV. In parts of southern Africa, infection rates are as high as 40 percent of adults.

"The International AIDS Society," Cahn said, "urges its worldwide membership to hold their governments to account for unproven claims of AIDS cures. We advise healthcare workers and policymakers throughout the world to continue to implement antiretroviral treatment programs for all who need them, and to clarify the proven dangers of stopping antiretrovirals, including the risk of disease progression and the development of drug resistance."

Source: United Press International

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HIV Treatment Goal Elusive
Washington (UPI) April 17, 2007
The world has made great strides toward its pledge of getting HIV treatment to everyone who needs it, but there is still a long way to go, a new report says.

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