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 considered.

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 stress.

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, they say.

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 TB.

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 anti-retroviral drugs.''

* 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 phenomenon.

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 addicts.

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 these issues.


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 testing.

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.