September 05, 2006

Another Cure for AIDS Bites the Dust

As a recent issue of Newsweek points out, the AIDS epidemic has been with us now for 25 years, and has resulted in at least 25 million deaths. Given the magnitude of the suffering, the desire for a cure is strong. So it is not surprising that people come forward from time to time with the claim of a cure for AIDS. Probably the most interesting is the cure for AIDS attributed to Luigi Scrosoppi, an Italian priest, who died back in 1884. Peter Changu Shitima, a young catechist in Zambia, was in the terminal stages of AIDS in 1996. The local parish prayed to the Blessed Luigi, and Scrosoppi appeared in a dream to Shitma, who was miraculously returned to health. Scrosoppi was canonized in 2001 for this feat. Unfortunately, this is not the sort of cure that can be generalized for whole populations. But neither can mopane worms, for that matter. And as for Dr Abalaka in Nigeria, always willing to inject himself with blood from HIV positive patients to prove the efficacy of his homebrewed HIV vaccine, not much news of late.

Last week, the Iranian Elahi Allahgholi was arrested for making and peddling his own AIDS cure, which goes by the evocative name of Khomeini. An 11-member team established by the Ugandan Ministry of Health determined that Khomeini is composed of olive oil, honey, and minerals, and while it could be an excellent base for making baklava, it will not cure AIDS.

In sub-Saharan Africa, only approximately 11% of those in need of AIDS treatment have access to anti-retrovirals, and anti-retrovirals have sometimes terrible side-effects and are made by powerful pharmaceutical companies that tend to care more about the bottom line than the interests of individuals. So it is tempting to think that an indigenous, herbal cure will come out of Africa, and defy all the well-funded attempts of Western medicine to control the virus. The scenario is delightful enough, but at the moment it is still too good to be true.
-Stuart Rennie

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