Thai Officials Call for Cancellation of AIDS ‘Miracle Cure’ Distribution Amid Controversy
Thai health officials have called for the cancellation of a "mass distribution" of a "controversial 'AIDS cure'" scheduled to occur this weekend at a Bangkok sports stadium, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 6/8). The purported "miracle cure" for AIDS has caused a "furor" in Thailand, where 4,000 people "crowded" into a Bangkok sports stadium last weekend for samples of the drug, despite the lack of any clinical evidence of its efficacy (Barnes, South China Morning Post, 6/7). V-1 Immunitor, a mixture of calcium, magnesium and "traces" of HIV, has not been approved by the government as a drug, but its makers claim that it can "eliminat[e] the virus entirely." Pharmacist Vichai Jirotthi-Tikal said that blood tests showed that the drug rid two patients of the virus and eased symptoms in others, but the results have not been verified by an outside agency. Critics said that the reports offered "false hope" to the estimated one million infected people in Thailand. "I have a great deal of sympathy for those who want treatment. But it is misleading to make these sorts of claims," Bernard Gardiner, regional manager for HIV/AIDS for the Red Cross, said (Takats, Reuters, 6/5).
Dying to Live
Last weekend, two AIDS patients died in the melee at the drug giveaway in Bangkok, sponsored by the Salang Bunnag Foundation. "There is no reason to tease sick people like this. We don't even know if the drug works, yet people are dying to try to get a few days' supply," an AIDS activist from Chiang Mai said. "If nothing else, this just shows how many ... desperate people there are out there," a doctor affiliated with an international medical organization said. Aldar Bourimbaiar, a scientist from the clinic that developed the compound, said that a "forthcoming" series of articles in medical journals would "dispel" any doubts about the compound's efficacy. An endorsement of the drug by the Salang Bunnag Foundation, founded by a "deeply controversial" former police general of the same name, has only "fueled" the "controversy." While the foundation wants the government to pay for production of V-1, a movement to ban the compound was supported by the Health Ministry, although the government "backed down in the face of widespread protests from AIDS patients" (South China Morning Post, 6/7). The ministry said it now plans to study V-1 and Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawatra has asked the agency to "speed up the process." Vichai said that he will continue to produce and dispense the compound "as long as people ask for it" (Reuters, 6/5).
A 'Palpable Sense of Desperation'
The Bangkok Post states in an editorial that the assembly at the sports stadium last weekend reflected a "palpable sense of desperation" among Thailand's AIDS patients, and that the attendance of the "revered monk" Luang Phor Koon Parisuto "only helped to raise ... hope by lending credibility" to the claims made about the compound. Although the foundation and the Ban Bang Pakong Clinic, which discovered the compound, are to be "commended for trying to fill the gap" left by the lack of government-subsidized medications, "it is reprehensible to hold out false hope, to not tell the whole truth about this pill," the editorial states. "Even more serious" is the fact that those taking the pills are asked to discontinue taking other medications, a move that could be equivalent to "signing their own death warrant," the editorial continues. "If the proponents of V-1 Immunitor genuinely want to help those with deadly HIV/AIDS, they must register their product with the [government] and follow all the rules and regulations so essential before a product such as theirs can be made widely available. Lives may well depend on their compliance," the editorial concludes (Bangkok Post, 6/7).