Are AIDS drugs worse than the disease by Celia Farber

Subject: Celia’s latest

New York Press Volume 17, Issue 52
DECEMBER 28, 2004

FOUR GRADE EVENT: Are AIDS drugs worse than the disease? Don’t ask the
people who make them.

By Celia Farber

After 20 years of hysteria, alarmism, misplaced recrimination and
guilt, AIDS fatigue has beaten the newspaper-reading mind into a kind
of blank. Citizens can’t be faulted for not knowing how exactly to
respond to last week’s eruption of scandal from an NIH whistle-blower
named Jonathan Fishbein, an AIDS researcher charged with overseeing
clinical trials here and abroad. A reverberating language of
bureaucracy and euphemism surrounds AIDS stories, making it impossible
to know what has actually transpired. When people die from AIDS drugs,
for instance, the word “death” is studiously avoided. I have seen
medical articles documenting the fact that more people now die of
toxicities from AIDS drugs than from the vanishingly opaque syndrome we
once called AIDS. Death was referred to as a “grade four event,” thus
placing it eerily within the acceptable parameters of predictable
phenomena in AIDS research—not as a failure, a crisis or even something
to lament.

John Solomon broke the first in a series of stories in the Associated
Press on Dec. 14. The lede read:

Weeks before President Bush announced a plan to protect African babies
from AIDS, top US health officials warned that research in Uganda on a
key drug was flawed and may have underreported severe reactions,
including deaths, government documents show.

The story held many shocking revelations, but was quickly spun
upside-down and inside-out by the AIDS spin machine, which can take any
horror and reduce it to banality, keeping the strict focus off of
government malfeasance. What Fishbein disclosed was that NIH AIDS
research chief Edmund Tramont had airbrushed and cooked damning
clinical data from a large experimental trial in Uganda that tested a
drug called Nevirapine against AZT, in pregnant HIV-antibody-positive
women, intended to reduce HIV transmission. Tramont had censored
reports of thousands of toxic reactions to the drug, and “at least 14
deaths,” concealing from the White House the truth about the drug, just
before Bush rolled out his $500 million plan to push Nevirapine across

Additional data not widely reported in the media revealed that there
were 16 more deaths in babies on Nevirapine, bringing the total to 30,
and 38 babies died on AZT (the other arm of the study). The ominous
data coincided with findings from an aborted study in South Africa in
the late 1990s (stopped due to toxicities and deaths); it was
disturbing enough that the drug’s manufacturer, Boehringer Ingelheim,
withdrew its application to have the FDA approve the drug for use in
pregnant women in all Western nations, including the U.S.

In 2000, the FDA put out a black-box label on the drug (which is
approved for use in HIV-positive adults as part of a “cocktail
therapy”), warning that it could cause fatal kidney damage and a
syndrome that causes the flesh to blister and peel as though burned.

This is the drug that countless campaigners—spanning the political
spectrum from George Bush to Bono—wish to give all Africans “free
access” to. South African President Thabo Mbeki has been savagely
pilloried for attempting to stop the drug’s distribution to black South
Africans. South African lawyer and journalist Anthony Brink’s scathing
report “The Trouble With Nevirapine” documented the long-known
“problems” with the drug. The report was widely read by South Africa’s
leadership, and is the source of furious debate between black South
Africans and the mostly white-run media, which still ridicules all
criticism of U.S.-imported AIDS drugs and protocols as being a symptom
of not caring about AIDS victims.

Nevirapine is a cheap drug, believed to reduce the transmission of HIV
antibodies from mother to child if given before and during birth,
despite there being no reliable data to prove that Nevirapine
“drastically reduce[s]” transmission.” (On average, in women who are
well nourished, about eight percent of babies born to HIV-positive
mothers with no intervention wind up HIV-antibody-positive; of these,
disease progression is not tied to HIV status but rather to the overall
health of the mother.) Wild claims about reduction in transmission are
based on outdated, flawed research and ignore critical facts. In
Africa, for instance, the test used to detect for HIV antibodies
cross-reacts with the very proteins of pregnancy, meaning the women may
not be true positives to begin with. Furthermore, every baby carries
ghost antibodies from its mother for up to 18 months, which it
eventually sheds, so all data about HIV status prior to that window of
time is useless—but consistently cited anyway.

Nevirapine is a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor—a class
of drug designed in the hopes of being less toxic than AZT. This isn’t
asking much, since AZT is chemotherapy that simply terminates DNA

“Of all the AIDS drugs, Nevirapine is the most acutely toxic,”
explained Dr. Dave Rasnick, a fierce critic of the government’s AIDS
research agenda, and a former drug developer. “It shows its toxic
effects quickly. It has been documented in the medical literature for
years that a single dose of Nevirapine can kill a person. People don’t
normally drop dead from taking a protease inhibitor, but that is what
happens with Nevirapine. The rationale for this stuff is just as
bizarre as it could be.”

He continued: “Liver toxicity is the leading cause of death of
HIV-positive people in America and Europe in the cocktail era.”

Some months ago, I asked Rasnick to send me documentation of this
seemingly unfathomable statement, which he did. The statement is in
line with interviews I did with healthcare workers back in 2000, who
reported that many more people are hospitalized from the effects of the
AIDS drugs than from any of the 30-odd symptoms that originally
constituted the definition of AIDS (i.e., a disintegration of the
immune system).

This would seem to be a p.r. problem for the AIDS industry. But as we
learned from the spin that followed the Fishbein revelations, death by
AIDS drugs is not viewed as something that should get in the way of a
well-intentioned research agenda—either in the West or in Africa.

The high dudgeon, when it came, was directed not at the NIH for
experimenting to lethal effect on pregnant Ugandan mothers, cooking and
deleting data, stating openly that African research can’t be held to
the same standards as Western research, or any of the other disturbing
things that came out of Tramontgate.

The ire was aimed at the Associated Press and its reporters for
spreading alarm about Nevirapine in Africa, which raised “fears that
many women there will stop taking the drug.”

The New York Times led the Orwellian spin, in a December 21 article by
Donald McNeil Jr. The lede went right to the heart of the matter: The
dyspepsia of activists and public health experts.

A series of articles critical of past trials of an important AIDS drug
has created a furor in Africa, causing many public health experts to
worry that some countries will stop using the drug, which prevents
mothers from infecting their babies with the virus that causes AIDS.

It went on: “On Friday, The National Institutes of Health for Allergy
and Infectious Diseases, an arm of the National Institutes of Health,
sharply criticized the articles, saying, ‘It is conceivable that
thousands of babies will become infected with HIV and die if
single-dose Nevirapine for mother-to-infant HIV prevention is withheld
because of misinformation.'”

Misinformation? The AP stories were specifically about the
transmogrification of information into misinformation that Tramont
engineered for his White House report. He cooked data. He deleted
information about toxic reactions and death. In what kind of inverted
universe is this not a gross violation of the entire premise of science
and medicine?

Nature soon followed suit. From an article dated December 23, this
dizzying opener:

Scientists and patient advocates this week united to defend an HIV
treatment against allegations that a key clinical trial was flawed. A
doctor from Global Strategis for HIV Prevention was quoted: ‘This is
the most successful therapy in the entire AIDS epidemic. It should not
be attacked.’

“We are now living in a time of psychotic science, or abnormal science
as I call it,” said former New York Native publisher Chuck Ortleb, who
was boycotted by the activist group ACT UP for publishing scathing
critiques of AZT in the 1980s—a drug that was later proven to shorten
rather than lengthen life. “That’s why there are no controls in AIDS
science, no dissent, why it’s all science by press release. These
self-appointed AIDS czars pretending to speak for the gay community,
pretending to be revolutionaries, pretending to be anti-government when
in fact they’ve always worked hand in hand with the government.”

In recent years, Ortleb has turned to writing satirical novels, plays
and a soon-to-be-released film called The Last Lovers on Earth, which
is centered on a future dystopia in which AIDS research has been so
successful that all gay men are dead.

“With their logic,” Ortleb says, “this risk-benefit analysis, it
doesn’t matter if people die on the drugs, because they died so that
the rest of the world could be saved.”

His most recent send-up is a fictional press release for a new medical
group called “Doctors Without Borders, Brains or Ethics,” and focuses
on protecting the AIDS establishment from criticism, “before the
infection of skepticism spreads.”

Let us not forget that Nevirapine is a drug that was pulled by its own
manufacturer from use in the West, after an investment of many millions
of dollars. It remains banned for use in pregnant first-world women.

Still, the NIH is using it on American women, in experimental trials
you never heard about—until now. Alongside the revelations about the
Ugandan trial, the AP stories brought to light that Joyce Ann Hafford,
a 33-year-old, perfectly healthy, eight-months pregnant HIV-positive
woman from Tennessee died from liver failure in an NIH trial testing
Nevirapine. Her liver counts had been way off for days, and still
doctors didn’t take her off the drug.

The doctors told her family, naturally, that she had died of AIDS. The
trouble is, cocktail-drug deaths are easily distinguished from AIDS
deaths. This was not the case with AZT, a drug that simply decimated
the immune system. Cocktail deaths are caused primarily by liver
toxicity, heart attacks and strokes—from the effects of the drugs on
the body’s fat metabolism.

Hafford’s death crystallizes the raging conflict between the
establishment point of view that HIV is deadly and drugs save lives and
the “denialist” or dissident point of view that HIV is not deadly at
all by itself, but AIDS drugs are. Hafford had no so-called AIDS
symptoms; she was simply HIV positive. She also had an older healthy
child, which suggests that HIV may not be as lethal as advertised. By
refusing to lament her death, or even the scores of Ugandan deaths, and
instead attacking the messenger, the AIDS establishment has shown
itself to be lost, with a broken compass, on the map of medicinal

Once it becomes acceptable to kill patients in experimental clinical
trials and cover it up, without consequence, you might argue that all
is lost.

© 2004 New York Press

—— End of Forwarded Message