Catherine Murombedzi HIV walk
TIMES are hard and ways to make money are devised almost every day. Newspapers are awash with adverts of traditional healers who claim to solve erectile problems, get male organ enlargements, get good jobs, loans or even promises of marriage.
All these are guaranteed by the “babas” who claim that they have spent time with the mermaids and now have solutions to life’s problems. Surely promising someone a job, why can’t the “baba” grab the job opportunity or recommend an unemployed child from their clan? Food for thought. Recent adverts in the media claimed that a new product epikaizo, a herbal remedy, eliminates HIV.
The manufacturers of epikaizo encourage people on ARVs to take them along with their herbal remedy to eliminate HIV.
For as long as no scientific tests have been carried out on this proposed remedy to ensure that it does not have negative interactions with either ARVs or other medical treatments, people taking ART are advised not to risk their lives.
Dr Tsitsi Mutasa-Apollo, who is the deputy director HIV/STIs in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, said the ministry welcomed research but this needed to be tested scientifically.
“We support research in different parts of the globe and more so local research. There is no cure as yet in the HIV field. We welcome research and this has to be presented to the scientific body in the country and the Ministry of Health and Child Care is open to such researchers. However, it is misinforming if there are claims that there is now a cure for HIV. It’s premature and wrong,” said Dr Mutasa-Apollo on the sidelines of a National AIDS Council board meeting with the Minister of Health and Child Care on Monday at their offices in Harare.
“We appeal to anyone claiming such information to come forward. We support research locally and globally and the research should be evidence based on informed interventions. Therefore local scientists are free to come and share their research findings with the Ministry of Health and Child Care so that their findings are validated and used to inform programming,” she added.
SAfAids communications director Mrs Tariro Makanga-Chikumbirike said such claims should be ignored until scientifically proven and that only when the Medicines Control Authority clears it, can organisations advertise that they have a new product. Otherwise, it is no and never, said Mrs Makanga-Chikumbirike.
“Epikaizo and other remedies that continue to mushroom on the market and to encourage people living with HIV to stop taking their ARVs is criminal,” she said. “For such claims to be valid, the remedy would have to be tested alongside all the different types of ARV medications – first in animal trials for a prolonged period of time and then in human trials. This process has not been done for epikaizo. Therefore, people on ARVs should continue taking their treatment and not mix them with any other remedies unless prescribed by a medical doctor,” said Mrs Makanga-Chikumbirike.
The remedy is also reported to be able to have an HIV-positive person testing negative, a condition known as remission. It should be noted that even with ARVs, the only scientifically proven cases of remission was identified in the February 2014 research presented at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston. A Mississippi baby and the Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach had HIV treatment administered early on the babies, resulting in them testing HIV negative, raising hopes for a cure. Despite the successes, researchers are reported to be cautious to talk about remission or a cure.
“Epikaizo’s claims of the remedy causing remission should therefore not be taken seriously as they have not been scientifically proven,” said Mrs Makanga-Chikumbirike.
Mrs Makanga-Chikumbirike said that without laboratory tests to see if there would not be any drug interactions it was wrong to tell the public that there would be no interactions.
“The remedy is also said not to cause any drug interactions. Without scientific evidence, taking this remedy could put the lives of people on ARVs at risk, in the event of drug interactions occurring.
Drug interactions may not occur until after several weeks of combining different medicines and can result in liver or kidney failure and death. Drug resistance could also occur when a person wants to revert back to their original ARV regimen. This would leave one with few and more difficult treatment options, as second line and third line treatment options are expensive and not easy to manage. It is therefore important that people on ARVs are not tempted by fly by night claims of miracle drugs, and should stay on their prescribed regimen,” said Mrs Makanga-Chikumbirike.
Adherence to one’s prescribed medication is the safest way for people living with HIV to be assured of good health.
“For individuals who may be tempted to stop taking their ARVs in favour of epikaizo, it is important to note that this will have long-term implications on the survival of one living with HIV. Being on ARVs, is a lifetime commitment. Excuses of ‘drug holidays’ have dire consequences as medically, there is nothing called a ‘drug holiday’ for people taking ARVs. Adherence to one’s treatment can therefore never be over-emphasised,” said Mrs Makanga-Chikumbirike.
ARVs are a combination of cocktail medicines tried over a long period. Since the HIV virus mutates rapidly (changes its shape) it is able to evade a single drug and thereby reproduce and fail to respond to medicines.
“ARVs are the only drugs that have been proven to be effective against HIV over prolonged periods – and then only in a combination of three different drugs. This is because HIV mutates (changes its shape) rapidly and is able to evade a single drug and find new ways of reproducing itself. It is therefore unlikely that, even if it were effective for a short time, a single herbal remedy such as epikaizo would be able to contain HIV over a prolonged of time,” she added.
SAfAIDS urged anyone with supplements to take them to their health centres or doctors for verification if there would not be drug interaction.
“As SAfAIDS we are appealing to all those on ART not to take other remedies that have not been recommended by their medical doctors.
“This may have dire consequences and affect the efficacy of their treatment regimen, resulting in treatment failure. We would also like to implore the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ), to continue in their resolve of ensuring that they stem out the importation of these herbal remedies as they endanger the lives of people living with HIV, who might be tempted to opt for them instead of their ARVs.”
A doctor speaking on condition of anonymity said it was illegal to distribute drugs which are not registered with the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ).
“If anyone is going to buy drugs, they should buy them from someone who is registered and those drugs must be guaranteed that they are safe for human consumption,”said the doctor.
“Therefore, anyone who buys drugs from streets or the backyard is exposing themselves to harm and selling those drugs is illegal.
“We have one of the most efficient drug authorities in the world and for anyone to sell a drug, they first have to register it with the MCAZ.” Contacted for comment, MCAZ director-general Gugu Mahlangu said epikaizo was not a registered drug in Zimbabwe.
“Epikaizo is not a registered drug in Zimbabwe,” Mrs Mahlangu said. “If we locate the person or persons distributing an unregistered medicine and making unproven claims regarding a product, we will report them to the police for appropriate action,” she said.
Zimbabwe has made great strides in the HIV response, with prevention, treatment, care and support significantly contributing to lessening the burden of HIV.
Let us not reverse these gains by dabbling in alternative treatment remedies that have not been scientifically proven to be effective and can place one’s life in danger.
Think “Health First”, stay on your ARVs and encourage others living positively to do the same.
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