'Anti-retrovirals are still toxic'

2009-05-18 00:00

Julia Denny-Dimitriou’s review of Kerry Cullinan and Anso Thom’s new book The Virus, Vitamins & Vegetables on 8 May has me as the villain of the piece, and a shame on my former home town: “Our own ‘City of Choice’ gets a mention in what has to be one of the most shocking chapters – the story of the government’s strange denialist bedfellows including Anthony Brink … described by a prominent international scientist as ‘delusional’.” She quotes Cullinan claiming I’m responsible for “the madness, sheer weirdness and despair of a decade with Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang”, and that I “came to have the ear of the president, health minister, and other top officials … by exploiting divisions etched by apartheid … with nothing to offer other than ideology in place of ARVs for people with weak immune systems”. What twittering nonsense!

Actually I “came to have the ear of the president, health minister, and other top officials” with the manuscript of my first book Debating AZT, then subtitled Questions of safety and utility, in which I showed the drug to be deadly poisonous and completely useless. After reading it, Mbeki duly alerted the people of our country in a speech given in the National Council of Provinces on 28 October 1999 to the fact that there “exists a large volume of scientific literature alleging that, among other things, the toxicity of this drug is such that it is in fact a danger to health. These are matters of great concern to the Government as it would be irresponsible for us not to heed the dire warnings which medical researchers have been making.”

Serious journalists were equally appalled by my revelations. Noseweek editor and publisher Martin Welz noted in the foreword he wrote for the book that I’d “tracked and digested every important reference to AZT in contemporary medical literature. The result is a comprehensive and alarming review of the findings of medical researchers on the clinical use of the drug.” My “argument” against it, he said, “is devastatingly clear”. The brilliant English investigative journalist, the late Paul Foot, agreed: “Very good. Convinced me completely.” Likewise the late Donald Woods: “Deserves serious treatment. More strength to your arm.” This newspaper’s deputy editor shared their high opinions: “A hefty blow for free speech and against the strictures of dogma … Crisp. Logical. … Bristlingly intelligent. … For anyone who wants to know what Mbeki’s on about, it’s all here, in a nutshell.” None found me or my book “strange”, “weird”, "mad", “delusional” and “denialist”.

Among effusive plaudits from numerous senior scientists around the world, the very inventor of the drug Professor Richard Beltz wrote to tell me I was “justified in sounding a warning against the long-term therapeutic use of AZT, or its use in pregnant women, because of its demonstrated toxicity and side effects. Unfortunately, the devastating effects of AZT emerged only after the final level of experiments was well underway … Your effort is a worthy one. … I hope you succeed in convincing your government not to make AZT available.”

The “devastating effects of AZT” arise from the fact that it’s a nucleoside analogue, a class of toxin routinely used to poison cells in cancer chemotherapy. Accordingly, when supplying a miniscule 25 mg for research use – one quarter the quantity in a single 100 mg capsule supplied by GlaxoSmithKline – the chemical company Sigma-Aldrich bottles it with a label bearing a bright orange stripe and skull and crossbones icon to signify a potentially fatal toxic chemical danger to the handler, spelt out: “TOXIC Toxic to inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed. Target organ(s): Blood Bone marrow. In case of accident or if you feel unwell, seek medical advice immediately (show the label where possible). Wear suitable protective clothing.”

Marketing AZT to be “swallowed” not by “accident” but on purpose as an alleged medicine, GlaxoSmithKline warns in an FDA-mandated “Black Box” toxic hazard notice at the top of its package insert that it indiscriminately poisons cells and is “POTENTIALLY FATAL”. The insert commences: “WARNING: RETROVIR (ZIDOVUDINE) MAY BE ASSOCIATED WITH HEMATOLOGIC TOXICITY INCLUDING GRANULOCYTOPENIA AND SEVERE ANEMIA” – namely massive destruction of blood cells, including immune cells, as Sigma-Aldrich cautions (Target organ(s): Blood Bone marrow) and innumerable studies have found. But Cullinan is all for “ARVs for people with weak immune systems”, even though, as Mbeki pointed out in his letter to Tony Leon on 1 July 2000, “AZT is immuno-suppressive. Contrary to the claims you make in promotion of AZT, all responsible medical authorities repeatedly issue serious warnings about the toxicity of antiretroviral drugs, including AZT” – citing stacks of supporting data in Castro Hlongwane … HIV/AIDS and the Struggle for the Humanization of the African, his radical exposition of the scientific fallacies and ideological poison in the foundations of the HIV/AIDS model.

Thanks to the false marketing propaganda of pharmaceutical industry embeds in the media, it’s almost universally believed by the newspaper-reading public, doctors included, that ARV drugs like AZT save lives. Not even their manufacturers make this claim, and the biggest clinical study of ARVs yet conducted recently confirmed they don’t.

In August 2006 the Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Cohort Collaboration reported their dismal findings in Lancet 368:451-458: “The results of this collaborative study, which involved … over 20 000 patients with HIV-1 … show that the virological response after starting HAART [Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy] has improved steadily since 1996. However, there was no corresponding decrease in the rates of AIDS, or death, up to 1 year of follow-up. Conversely, there was some evidence for an increase in the rate of AIDS in the most recent period. [We noted a] discrepancy between the clear improvement we recorded for virological response and the apparently worsening rates of clinical progression.” (The lower patients’ “viral load” went on the drugs, the sicker they got.) An editorial commenting on “these somewhat paradoxical trends” noted: “The major findings are that … there were no significant improvements in early immunological response as measured by CD4-lymphocyte count, no reduction in all-cause mortality, and a significant increase in combined AIDS/AIDS-related death risk in more recent years.”

In sum, contrary to newspaper mythology, ARV drugs don’t extend lives, they shorten them. So much for Michael Cherry’s vicious lie, quoted in the review, that Mbeki’s reluctance to provide these useless, deadly drugs in the public health system has resulted in “an estimated 343 000 deaths, for which Mbeki and his Cabinet must bear collective responsibility”.

In an article in the Mail&Guardian on 24 November 2004, and again in a press statement three years later, I warned: “Hundreds of studies have found that AZT is profoundly toxic to all cells of the human body, and particularly to the blood cells of the immune system” and “Numerous studies have found that children exposed to AZT in the womb and after birth suffer brain damage, neurological disorders, paralysis, spasticity, mental retardation, epilepsy, other serious diseases and early death.” The studies in point are reviewed in Debating AZT: Mbeki and the AIDS drug controversy and Poisoning our Children: AZT in pregnancy, both online at www.tig.org.za.

In early 2008, under intense propaganda pressure from ARV-promoting journalists like Cullinan and Thom, and served with an ultimatum from the Treatment Action Campaign threatening further litigation against it, the government folded and began providing AZT to pregnant African women and their newborn babies in public hospitals countrywide. The result has been precisely the horrible tragedy I tried to prevent.

Last month, at the Fourth South African AIDS Conference in Durban, Dr Joanne Potterton of WITS presented an abstract of her research on the benefits of a “basic home stimulation programme” in Soweto for “motor and cognitive development in HIV-positive children under 30 months” suffering “developmental delay, failure to achieve development milestones … deterioration of intellectual abilities … spastic quadriparesis (a spastic rigidity of the limbs often accompanied by difficulty in swallowing and seizures), dystonic posturing (abnormal or “locked in” movements) and regression in motor milestones”.

Potterton reported that her “stimulation programme” had limited value for these brain-damaged African children, and concluded: “South African children who are infected with HIV are at risk of severe cognitive and motor delay.”

Cullinan is quoted claiming that I “used South Africans’ deep … distrust of Western powers and medicine … to sow seeds of doubt about an epidemic that is largely sexually transmitted and incurable”. The world’s top AIDS expert doesn’t go with this precious fable of the purse-lipped white middle class. In the trailer of a new documentary film about AIDS posted at www.houseofnumbers.com, Professor Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine last year for his claim to have discovered “HIV” in 1983, assures us that “We can be exposed to HIV many times without being chronically infected. Our immune system will get rid of the virus within a few weeks, if you have a good immune system.” He doesn’t think “HIV” is “incurable” at all, and he implies that as long as we’re strong and up for it we can “sow” our “seeds” in whoever we like, as much as we want, no worries.

He doesn’t think much of the ARVs Cullinan is selling either. In an article published in Science 298(5599):1730-1 in 2002, co-written with Dr Robert Gallo, originator of the HIV theory of AIDS, he warned that “there are severe limitations to antiretroviral therapy, including toxic side effects (lipid deposition, increased risk of diabetes and cardiac infarcts, muscular and neurological toxicity). Therefore, it is imperative to launch clinical trials to test additional treatments that are less toxic.”

Lacking the nous to engage me on the merits of any aspect of the AIDS controversy, Cullinan tries a cheap shot, off-point. The reviewer quotes her with relish: “Before rising to notoriety, Brink ‘opted to become a prosecutor in Pietermaritzburg when most of his peers shunned the apartheid state’.” Cullinan wasn’t one of them. She richly enjoyed the benefits of “the apartheid state”, and slept tight at night knowing the courts were working should anyone go after her or her pretty things. Her hypocrisy is laughable!

Cullinan’s talk of the “despair of a decade with Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang” is understandable. It must be the most terrible thing to face the fact that her journalism as a white human rights AIDS activist, financed by American corporations via their political executive arms, corporate philanthropies, in which she has stridently attacked Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang at every turn for their concern about AZT and similar drugs, has played a major role in the mass poisoning of the African poor.

Adv Anthony Brink is chairman of the Treatment Information Group in Cape Town: www.tig.org.za


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