AIDS is perhaps the most politicized pandemic in history. When industrialized countries met in India late last month, and Paris in June, at high-profile AIDS conferences, what should have been opportunities to determine how much and where rich countries would spend resources in the fight against AIDS repeatedly disintegrated into a charge/countercharge between those who favor a multilateral approach and the “go-it-alone” crowd from the United States.
At issue: Who should control the global AIDS agenda, and therefore the money being thrown at the problem. In Paris, for example, the U.S. delegation upped the ante by leaving a check at the table and challenging the European Union, among others, to follow suit. The EU did not, saying it was unlikely pledges would be honored or that proposed treatment prescriptions would be complied with. The disarray emanating from these conferences demonstrates why the Bush administration wants to go it alone. But a tactical strategy to win points over the Europeans is not prudent policy from the world’s lone superpower when AIDS alone is killing nearly 9,000 humans a day. A new approach is needed.
Enhanced nutritional intervention (eNI) is one path the Bush White House should consider without delay. Existing treatment and prevention paradigms are showing increasingly ineffective results at unacceptable costs. Anti-retroviral drug therapies (ARTs) are widely considered too complex and costly, and given the mutating nature of the AIDS virus, prone to resistance by the disease. Getting infected patients to sign up for ARTs, even if offered at no cost, has also proved difficult due to the disease’s stigma. Botswana’s failing ART program, replete with free drugs and imported physicians, is a glaring example of how not to tackle the AIDS problem.
Alone, regimens aimed at prevention won’t work; many African men, for example, are loath to wear condoms no matter what the risks. Treatments, such as Nevirapine, which aim to block mother-to-child transmission of the disease, are flawed at best. A paltry three percent of children born from HIV/AIDS-infected mothers have benefited from the use of interdiction drugs.
What to do? AIDS is an immunodeficiency syndrome. Its attack strategy is most successful in nutritionally deficient hosts whose normal immune functions cannot withstand the viral onslaught it wreaks once inside the human body. Common sense would dictate a counterstrategy that relies on first improving the body’s ability to withstand a viral assault, and then repairing the very structures on which healthy cells rely to identify and combat the disease.
Dynamic mineral therapy, the central focus of eNI, does just that. But it also does it at low cost ($80 per annum for a child) by empowering individuals to take control of their own therapy (mitigating stigma issues), and does so without the debilitating side effects of toxins present in many other therapy regimes.
All of which makes eNI anathema to big drug-industry players because it undercuts highly profitable exercises in research and development, all with the impression that something meaningful is being done to combat the disease. And that is precisely why, if the Bush White House is serious about AIDS, it should get behind a low-cost alternative that does not affect highflying ARTs or the ongoing efforts to transform societal norms on prevention.
eNI employs the inorganic use of vital minerals, such as Zinc, Magnesium, Selenium, Iron, and Copper, in proportionally balanced amounts with normal vitamins (A, C & E) to essentially restore immune functions by repairing B-Cell and T-Cell connectivity disrupted by the HIV virus. Zinc therapy is particularly effective in repairing T-Cell functions.
An eNI therapy regime also dramatically improves the body’s natural ability to defend against disease by overcoming malnutrition and malabsorption. Administered in early childhood, it can prevent stunted growth and dramatically strengthen the child’s normal immune functions. And unlike in the case of ART, it is not possible for the HIV virus to build up resistance to Zinc or other minerals-based treatment regimens.
Furthermore, there is no stigma associated with eNI therapy. Improving one’s health is a fundamental human right, and if it so happens that it also repairs a damaged immune system, or improves the body’s ability to withstand viral attacks, so much the better.
Testing in Africa and Thailand is proving the point. Dr. Lynde Francis, adviser to the World Bank on nutrition, has reported significant positive results in using eNI regimes in Zimbabwe since 1998. Her trials show that eNI helps patients to cost effectively cope with AIDS as a chronic disease rather than succumbing to it as a death sentence. An international team of physicians working in Thailand will soon publish the results of a preliminary study conducted in Thailand showing the efficacy of eNI in HIV-positive individuals.
These infectious diseases pose an ongoing and increasingly urgent threat to global security. For a fraction of the cost of what American taxpayers paid to get rid of Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration could easily take steps unilaterally that don’t interfere with the work of The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis, and other multilateral organizations, and still provide the leadership the world seeks, and rightly deserves, from the United States.
Pilot projects employing eNI that treat children, particularly orphans, and pregnant women living with HIV/AIDS, should be funded by the Bush White House immediately. A full-scale study that proposes to treat 5,000 people in each of eight African and Caribbean countries with eNI supplements should be set up and funded as well. Programs to train NGO and community-health workers on how to administer eNI-therapy regimes should be started in parallel. And clinical trials with in vitro testing of nutritional-intervention compounds should be funded to ascertain their immunological characteristics and effects.
The bill for these exercises: The whopping sum of $50 million, or about the same amount as it cost the White House to ferry President Bush to Africa and back in June in search of political kudos for what can still be a major contribution to global and national security.
— Mansoor Ijaz, a New York financier, is NRO contributor on issues dealing with national security and terrorism. He is also a graduate of the MIT-Harvard Medical School Medical Engineering Program. Alimuddin Zumla is professor of infectious diseases at University College London.