Nigeria’s latest ‘HIV cure’, media sensation and commonsense research principles

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@HealthNews_NG editor, @PaulAdepoju, takes a closer look at Prof Maduike Ezeibe’s ‘HIV cure’

I was really glad when I read yesterday of the Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, Sani Aliyu’s displeasure with the publicity given to the claim of a cure for HIV/AIDS by a Nigerian professor.

Aliyu, in a statement by his office on Monday, said it was a great disservice to the vulnerable group of HIV patients for the media to disseminate such claims in the absence of scientific evidence.

This was what happened. Maduike Ezeibe, who is a Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Clinical Virology at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Umuahia, Abia State, had claimed he had produced a drug that could cure HIV. According to him, the drug he produced with “Aluminium Magnesium Silicate” had been successfully tested on ten persons living with HIV.

The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, on Monday disclosed that the Federal Government had mandated the National Institute for Medical Research and the College of Medicine, Ibadan to do a proper study of claims of HIV cure in the country.

While responding to questions on the position of government on the claims at a Town Hall meeting in Ilorin, Kwara State, Mr. Adewole said getting a cure would be of public health interest to the country but that any claim would have to be subjected to standard scrutiny.

“We are concerned that the publicity given to these claims will stop patients with HIV from taking life-saving antiretrovirals and give them false hope of a cure,” the NACA Director General said on the claim in the statement on Monday.

“There are long established, tried and tested routes for the discovery, development and validation of modern medicines before they can be registered and used for treatment in humans and animals.
Why this does not make sense

Academics and researchers know the laid down rules guiding legal and scientifically-acceptable methods in conducting their researches. Introducing a drug is going to go through different phases of drug trials – pre-clinical and clinical phases which includes testing in different levels of animals, Phase I to IV clinical trials before they become accepted.

But in Ezeibe’s case, there are so many things that are wrong with the way he conducted his research and reached the conclusion that his drug is effective. The sample size is also ridiculously low. The prof ought to be aware of the various HIV studies currently ongoing in various parts of the world and the number of patients that are involved in the various studies.

There are also ethical concerns. Did any ethical review board approve the study? Did the participants voluntarily enlisted for the study and did the study follow laid down protocol? These are standard (and basic) requirements that all research works are expected to have which in this case are lacking. The saddest part of this development is that it happened in a university where students are expected to be taught the right thing. Since the researcher is a prof, it becomes a major subject of concern to investigate what wrong research ethics are being passed to the students.

In a statement entitled “Re: Nigerian scientist conquers HIV/AIDS”, Director General of the Agency, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said there was no basis for a claim to the cure of AIDS as described in the study presented by Ezeibe.

The NACA DG who said the study quoted by Ezeibe did not follow standard ethical protocols for clinical trials, also noted that there was no evidence from the publication that the authors obtained ethical clearance from an appropriate body in Nigeria to conduct this study, and only ambiguous evidence that informed consent was sought from the evidently vulnerable patients.

“We are concerned that the publicity given to these claims will stop patients with HIV from taking life-saving antiretrovirals and give them false hope of a cure. It will be a great disservice to this vulnerable group of patients for the media to disseminate these claims in the absence of sound scientific evidence. “There are long established, tried and tested routes for the discovery, development and validation of modern medicines before they can be registered and used for treatment in humans and animals.

Media reports had quoted Ezeibe as saying that the drug, produced with “Aluminium Magnesium Silicate” was tested on 10 persons living with HIV. It was also reported that a clinical outcome of an ability to “reach all cells” and making HIV “a conquered organism”.

Aliyu said: “The claim for a HIV/AIDS cure is not new. It is also not new to find a scientist using ambiguous scientific methods and practices to buttress this claim, and to find obscure journals increasingly prepared to publish these claims.”

Curbing media excesses

The sensation that greeted the news in the Nigerian media brings to the fore a major issue of concern in order to avoid making premature claims that are capable of derailing the huge progress made in the last two decades in the war against HIV/AIDS.

“Millions of lives have been saved as a result of modern antiretroviral treatment and people living with HIV can now look forward to a normal healthy future”, he said.

Aliyu called on editors of media houses in Nigeria to seek comments from the leadership of the relevant government parastatals and professional bodies when it receives new research findings related to the agency’s areas of responsibility.

“We assure you that we will respond rapidly and constructively to any queries.”

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adepojupaul@gmail.com'

Paul is a freelance journalist, medical researcher and extensively published author. He holds a MSc degree in cell biology and genetics, and is a PhD candidate of the University of Ibadan

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Nigeria’s latest ‘HIV cure’, media sensation and com…

by Paul ADEPOJU time to read: 4 min
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