Herbal remedy vs. ARVs: Zambia edition


A clinical trial in Zambia pits ARVs against an herbal remedy.

Good show. I like to see more of this. The cost of ARVs are out of hand, and very toxic to boot. I personally would like to see alternatives tested.

Here’s what I see as the objections according to the article (assuming the article is appropriately quoting the speakers), and how I answer them:

bq. An Aids charity spokesperson was sceptical about the trials, saying the only known effective treatment was anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.

And ARVs were established as effective … how again? Oh yeah, through clinical trials. I see this quite often from anti-alternative medicine people (anti-alties?): “We can’t run a clinical trial for this because it hasn’t shown to be effective.” Let the trial run, and let the evidence speak for itself (keeping in mind the limitations of clinical trials).

Genevieve Clark, of the British charity Terence Higgins Trust:

“Anything that boosts the immune system helps… Anything you can do in terms of eating healthily and being healthy is to be welcomed.”

But she added: “Herbal remedies have not been proven to help… The only thing proven is anti-retroviral treatments.”

Let the trials speak as they may. Again, we’re talking about gathering evidence, not what’s “proven.”

Clark again:

bq. She also expressed concern that the test sample of 25 people was not large enough to be a “proper clinical trial”.

How about telling that to the PIs of the hundreds if not thousands of properly run small clinical trials. You have to start small and work up to large trials, at least in a drug development framework. I’ve seen cases where drug companies “shot the moon” (__i.e.__ ran a large trial before running the proper smaller trials) and lost millions of dollars on a drug that tanked. (A drug tanking in a large trial happens often enough even with the properly run smaller trials.) Not to mention that in this situation with a disease that is quickly fatal if improperly treated, I don’t think it’s terribly ethical to start big.

At any rate, I’m glad to see this type of trial being run. I don’t know if the trial is properly designed, or if the investigators will exaggerate or embellish the interpretations at the end, or if the limitations of clinical trials will be properly respected. However, I do wish people would bite their tongues on what’s proven and what’s not until the results are in.

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