Donor shortfall will cost lives – TAC

06 October 2010


A reply – Anthony Brink

One understands from this TAC press statement that antiretroviral drugs save people’s lives. And that unless governments hand over billions more to the pharmaceutical industry, hundreds of thousands of lives will be lost.

But is it true? Is it true that ‘antiretroviral treatment’ is ‘life saving’? That it would ‘save the lives of poor children, women and men’. That it has ‘saved nearly six million lives already, and continues to save nearly 4,000 lives every day’? And that ‘millions of lives … will be lost’ without these drugs?

Although nearly everyone who reads the newspapers and watches TV believes this, there’s no scientific evidence to support it.

Not a single properly conducted controlled clinical trial has reported that people taking ARVs live longer than people who don’t. This is why not even the pharmaceutical corporations who sell these drugs claim they save lives.

For instance, AZT manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline says about its ARV drug Ziagen in its ‘Product Information’: ‘Ziagen has not been studied long enough to know if it will help you live longer or have fewer of the medical problems that are associated with HIV infection or AIDS.’ About Combivir, a combination of its drugs AZT and chemically similar 3TC, GlaxoSmithKline notes: ‘COMBIVIR is not a cure for HIV infection and patients may continue to experience illnesses associated with HIV infection, including opportunistic infections.’ Boehringer Ingelheim says about nevirapine: ‘VIRAMUNE does not cure HIV or AIDS, and it is not known if it will help you live longer with HIV. People taking VIRAMUNE may still get infections common in people with HIV (opportunistic infections).’ Merck is no more encouraging about its protease inhibitor drug: ‘It is not known whether Crixivan will extend your life or reduce your chances of getting other illnesses associated with HIV.’

As for ‘new and more effective responses to HIV’ that ‘science is delivering’, Gilead Sciences is equally pessimistic about its new drug tenofovir. Its ‘Product Information’ reads: ‘VIREAD does not cure HIV-1 infection or AIDS. The long-term effects of VIREAD are not known at this time. People taking VIREAD may still get opportunistic infections or other conditions that happen with HIV-1 infection. Opportunistic infections are infections that develop because the immune system is weak. Some of these conditions are pneumonia, herpes virus infections, and Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) infections.’

Far from saving lives, the biggest, best conducted case study yet conducted found that ARVs take them:

‘The results of this collaborative study, which involved … over 20,000 patients with HIV-1 from Europe and North America, show that the virological response after starting HAART [Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, i.e. ARV drugs] 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 Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Cohort Collaborative, Lancet 368:451-458 (August 2006).

A covering editorial in Lancet commenting on ‘these somewhat paradoxical trends’ noted: ‘The major findings are that, despite improved initial HIV virological control … 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.’

The ‘paradox’ was that contrary to expectation, notwithstanding a transient, temporary early reduction of so-called viral load, antiretroviral drugs don’t improve CD4 cell counts and most importantly don’t save lives – on the contrary they bring on AIDS in people diagnosed HIV positive and accelerate their death rate.



1. What's the best evidence the TAC can up with that ARVs are life-saving drugs? Search on 'Jordan' in Brink's answering affidavit in the Cape High Court in mid-2006, and read the single meta-analysis on which the TAC relied blown to pieces for the junk it was:

2. For some observations concerning the role of the professional AIDS activist industry in lobbying Western governments on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, read Brink's letter to the organizers of an international conference of AIDS activists in Bonn in June 2007 that he slipped into: