Thursday, 21 July 2016

Hope in Ending HIV Infections

AIDS is no longer the unstoppable monster it once was, with rates of new infections, including those from mother-child transmission, falling around the world. This year, Thailand became the first country in Asia to end mother-child HIV transmission, and others, such as Haiti in the Caribbean, are close behind. There are still 150,000 children becoming infected every year, but we have come a long way. The WHO has also recognised Armenia and Moldova as eliminating mother-child transmission. While it is not my favourite source, The Huffington Post has reported that 17 other countries in the Americas may have eliminated mother-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. This includes Cuba, the first country in the world to receive validation of this achievement.

But what have I learnt from my naturopathy degree, in regards to HIV/AIDS? Usually it has just been "supportive" care, solely focused on reducing the side-effects of the pharmaceutical drugs. However, in the last few weeks of my degree, I learnt of a study where a 4-herb formula known as Immu-25 was tested for its effects on viral load and CD4 cell count. In this early trial, 36 patients with CD4 cell counts below 500 cells/uL were given two capsules of the formula daily under an open-label study. The results? There was an increase in weight, from 58kg on average to 63kg at 6 months, 64kg at 12 months and 68kg at 18 months. Cough, fever, diarrhoea, anorexia (lack of appetite) and fatigue all decreased with the herbal treatment. These results are especially relevant to naturopaths, who are not allowed to say that we actually treat HIV in Australia; however we can say that we offer supportive care to improve quality of life. As for viral load, there was a decrease from the average of 326,438 at baseline, to 180,495 at 6 months, and 22,069 at 12 months. That is an over 90% reduction in one year, instead of viral load constantly increasing or staying constant! As for CD4 cell count, the average baseline value was 243 cells/uL, which increased to 336 after 6 months, then rose to 527/uL at the 12-month point, and then to 618/uL after 18 months. According to WebMD, 500-1500/uL is the normal range for CD4 cells. The only side effects were mild gastrointestinal disturbances, nowhere near as severe as those caused by pharmaceutical drugs. These benefits and the lack of drawbacks mean that I am very disappointed that this is not more widely known and researched. What if the use of this formula could result in at least a reduction of pharmaceutical doses? 

Holy Basil. Source: Mokkie
The four herbs in Immu-25 are Withania somnifera, Ocimum sanctum, Emblica officinalis and Tinospora cordifolia. The first is withania, or ashwagandha, commonly used by naturopaths for conditions where there is debility. The second is known as holy basil, another adaptogen for those with fatigue-related conditions. The third is amla, or Indian gooseberry, and I am not familiar with it, but have heard of it. The fourth is known as Guduchi or Amrita, among other names, and this is the first time I have heard of it.

Finally, another, non-pharmaceutical way to prevent HIV infections is by ending child marriage and increasing career etc. opportunities for girls. Girls who have been pushed into marriage have less power over their lives, and so are more likely to be forced into unprotected sex. Girls who have to engage in prostitution because there are no other options are also at risk. This is one of the many reasons why I am passionate about increasing and improving education for girls.

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