By Rupa Chinai
Times of India (Bombay) 29 May & 4 Jun 2001
Mumbai -- Now that the AIDS 'cocktail therapy' is being offered at a lower
price by Indian pharmaceutical companies, developing countries like
South Africa and India are under increasing social pressure to
distribute these drugs free through their public health system. However,
before jumping into this decision, other dimensions need to be
It is a fact that anti-retroviral drugs offer no cure for AIDS. In fact,
the US federal health authorities issued new guidelines in February this
year, backtracking on its long-held policy of "hit hard and early'' for
AIDS treatment. It now recommends that treatment for HIV should be
delayed as long as possible for people without symptoms.
This US move is a result of growing concern over toxic effects of the
therapies, reported The New York Times recently. "These toxic effects
include nerve damage, weakened bones, unusual accumulation of fat in the
neck and abdomen and diabetes..Many people have developed dangerously
high levels of cholesterol and other lipids in the blood, raising
concern that HIV positive persons might face another epidemic of heart
disease,'' the report states.
"Studies show that the drug cocktail does not destroy the HIV virus,
When infected people stop the therapy, the virus rebounds, making
lifetime therapy a necessity'' the report adds.
Meanwhile, a wholly new dimension to this debate is brought by a strong
body of Western scientists, which include Nobel prize winners. They
believe that attacking the virus (HIV) will not deal with the underlying
causes of immune suppression. AIDS is the consequence of a suppressed
immune system which has been subjected to repeated onslaughts by four
factors that build up toxins and deficiencies in the body. These are:
antibiotic abuse, recreational drug abuse, anal sex and nutritional
The fact that these factors have appeared in combination over the past
two decades, could explain the emergence of AIDS, claim the alternative
thinkers. HIV, if it exists, is a marker of a suppressed immune system,
While closely following the 'AIDS story' over the past six years, this
reporter found the emergence of two clear trends:
* A large number of people from within the general population -- that is,
those not part of the 'high-risk group' -- enjoy good health despite
testing 'HIV positive' a decade ago. In Mumbai, the "AIDS capital of
India'', counselling groups such as Salvation Army and CASA (Counselling
and Allied Services), who attend to HIV-positive people from this
segment of the population, say there is strong evidence to show that the
damage caused to the immune system can be reversed.
"This happens when people change their habits of substance abuse, eat
nutritious food, involve themselves in community service, practise
discipline and hygiene, receive regular counselling, family and social
support. Such persons emerge stronger and healthy,'' says Arun Meitram,
a counsellor at the Salvation Army clinic.
Incidentally, Salvation Army counsellors recall only 15 deaths have
occurred among the 900 patients they have been following over the past
decade. In most cases the cause of death is related to malnutrition or
Says Nagesh Shirgoppikar, a medical consultant to Salvation Army, "Our
experience in treating 'HIV positive' persons over the past decade shows
that all the components of comprehensive psychological, emotional,
physical and conventional medical treatment are very important. If a
person is treated wholly, he is fine. Our patients have remained
asymptomatic for upto ten years, and enjoy perfect health without
* However, a disturbing trend noticed among the 'gay community' and
those indulging in drug abuse is the rapid progression into full-blown
AIDS. This downslide confirms what the 'alternative thinkers' on AIDS
are also saying -- chemical drugs (both recreational and antibiotic abuse)
cause immune suppression. So does anal sex, which causes toxic shock to
the 'receiving partner'.
Some evidence emerging from India substantiate this thinking. Rapid
progression into AIDS is evident, for instance in Manipur. At a recent
workshop on AIDS in the North-East region, officials from the Manipur
State AIDS Society, said that rampant drug abuse has made AIDS a visible
In Manipur the intervention programme emphasises 'clean needle
exchange', without simultaneous support for detoxification and
rehabilitation. Evidence from Sankalp, an NGO working amongst drug
addicts in Mumbai shows that when addicts are offered clean needles, it
helps create a sense of acceptance of their problem without any
prejudice. But they also need simultaneous detoxification facilities,
with access to buprenorphine, (a 'partial opiate agonist' that enables
an addict to stop hard drugs and taper off the craving for a 'chemical
kick'), along with rehabilitation. Both facets receive mere 'lip
service' in Mumbai and Manipur, which has a sizeable population of drug
Meanwhile, studies amongst Mumbai's gay community reveal that anal sex
is a dominant pattern of sexual behaviour. More studies are required to
establish whether this practise is linked to the progression of AIDS,
and whether a combination of other factors like alcohol abuse, lack of
proper nutrition and sanitation contributes to their vulnerability to
AIDS. India's STD clinics and health centres make no effort to address
Emerging evidence, both internationally and within India, is
presenting a wholly new dimension of AIDS. It suggests that repeated
assaults on the body's immune system by the build-up of toxins and
nutritional deficiencies leads to AIDS. And, for many, the damage could
be reversible even without drugs.
This new demension puts to doubt the accepted belief that a virus, HIV,
is responsible for causing AIDS. In consequence, a question mark looms
over the credibility of the HIV test and its ability to identify a
person who is vulnerable to AIDS.
Questions over the validity of the HIV test are coming from Mumbai, the
'AIDS capital of India'. Evidence shows that the rampant use of HIV
tests on asymptomatic persons is resulting in a large number of false
'HIV positive' results. Nobody knows the true extent of such incidents
because the health authorities have no system of monitoring privately
run laboratories and hospitals.
Alka Gogate, director of the Mumbai AIDS Society acknowledges the
problem. She attributes it to the many private laboratories in the city
that lack accreditation and technical expertise to assure standardised
Mumbai's corporation hospitals no longer insist on an HIV test on
admission. It is prescribed only when a patient shows symptoms such as
repeated bouts of diarrhoea, fever, loss of body weight or TB -- the
common symptoms of AIDS-associated illnesses in India.
Private hospitals in Mumbai insist on a routine HIV test before
admission. Several newspaper reports have documented the havoc false
'HIV positive' tests have caused in the lives of patients. According to
Dr. Gogate their insistance on rampant HIV testing in the absence of
clinical symptoms of AIDS, needs to be challenged.
Fear of social stigma has prevented many patients from making their
complaint public. Widely reported however, is the case of a young man
who tested HIV positive when he was undergoing a compulsory medical
examination, required for getting a work permit in the Gulf. Subsequent
negative tests at reputed laboratories did not change the decision of
the Gulf Board to reject him.
Yet another reported case is that of two pregnant women who initially
tested HIV positive, and their babies were subjected to a course of AZT,
a toxic and controversial anti-AIDS drug. Thereafter, a second HIV test
showed negative results.
The AIDS establishment now officially concede that reliance on a single
HIV test is not acceptable in labelling a person as 'HIV positive'. At
least three confirmatory tests are required to eliminate the possibility
of picking up other infection markers. However, for most poor patients a
single test remains the norm.
The unreliability of the HIV test confirms what 'alternate thinkers' on
AIDS have maintained since long -- there is evidence to show that the HIV
tests, Elisa and Western Blot, can show false results when there is
cross-reactivity with a host of viral and bacterial species.
Their evidence holds there are at least 70 different conditions in a
person being tested for HIV that can show false positive results. These
conditions include influenza, herpes simplex, hepatitis, all
mycobacterium bacterial species (including leprosy and tuberculosis),
malaria, and even pregnancy and malnutrition.
The substance of this argument goes back to the 1980s when Robert Gallo
and Luc Montagnier, American and French scientists respectively, first
claimed to have isolated HIV. Review of the published literature by an
Australian scientist group shows that viral particles claimed to be HIV,
were taken from unpurified cell cultures and unspecific density
gradients. The standard norm for isolation of a retrovirus requires that
it must be purified from the presence of other "cellular debris'',
analysed and proven to be able to replicate.
The isolated particles in the Gallo-Montagnier experiment contained
'cellular debris' which also resembles retrovirus particles, and can
react in an 'HIV antibody test'. Despite the faulty methodology, their
research was unquestioningly accepted to set subsequent standards of an
HIV test kit.
The fact that the HIV test is not specific for the detection of the
virus is clearly stated in the literature accompanying the Eliza test
kits (from Abbott Laboratories, for instance).
In the light of this evidence questions arise about whether bombarding
the virus does any good to the body. Overwhelming research evidence from
the fields of AIDS, cancer and heart disease, points to the dramatic
difference in disease prevention, made through access to right
nutrition, exercise and changed lifestyle.
Africa is cited as the example of a continent in the throes of AIDS.
Health historians say that AIDS here, is a consequence of the depletion
of the body's nutrition pool over generations, and the destruction of
the immune system. As sub-Saharan Africa plunged deeper into the cycle
of poverty, malnutrition and civil war, it also suffered epidemics of
Ebola, Marburg or Lhassa fever, that stayed with them for decades. AIDS
they say, is the logical conclusion of this onslaught.
The deepening economic crisis of India's poor will see more people
testing 'HIV positive' because of their depleting nutrition status,
stress and compromised immunity. This implies that the Indian population
as a whole need more than condoms, sex education and a cocktail therapy
of questionable value.