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i'm confused
Apr 18, 2009

So, I recently asked a question about alternative therapies for treating HIV. I recently went through the archive of people approaching the subject as well, to be answered that any other alternative therapy is pretty much bad, and the only therapy that's good is taking HIV medications. I'm confused because when I was first diagnosed, my doctor urged me to do research and find other alternative therapies to add to my hiv medications, but every one I find, I am told it wouldn't be safe to do. I can't help but think that everyone wants people who are HIV+ to stay on medications, cause I mean truthfully it does put a big chunk of change in the pharmaceutical department. I'm not trying to sound like I think the world is out to get us, but with every answer I read, that's the conclusion I came on. So here it is again, what other alternative therapy is safe to take while taking HIV meds? Also, are you (doctors) even open to something else besides handing out prescriptions for pills? With as much funding that is given time and time again, and how advanced science is anyway.... How come we can't come up with a better solution... like a cure perhaps?

Response from Dr. Young

Hello and thank you for your thoughtful, if misinformed post.

First, a disclaimer. I'm a medical scientist. I trained in the US, have a PhD in biochemistry and don't go to church. I believe that evolution happens and in the scientific method.

I can understand why it could be easy to interpret that all western doctors are shills for the pharmaceutical industry (some more than others, no doubt), but do know that it's illegal for US physicians to derive direct profit from any prescription. This situation is in stark contrast to regulations that govern the prescription and sale of supplements and herbal products (which most physicians don't sell anyways).

We do however think that antiretroviral medications can and do save lives. There is a more than 10 year history of scientifically controlled and independently validated studies (unless you subscribe to the Bush-era idea that if the science doesn't fit your policy, it's the science, not the policy, that's wrong-- eg., evolution or condoms and HIV).

Yes, I do want to see more people on HIV medications and more people HIV tested. This doesn't implicitly mean that I am merely acting to sell more drugs, and definitely not to say I want more money going to the hands of Abbott diagnostic labs (those who know me well can confirm the later), but rather, that many of us have seen first hand the devastation that the lack of HIV medications in developing countries causes; others recall the day when we did not have effective medications here in the US or Europe.

Alternative therapies are unlikely to hurt, it's just that save for very rare examples, there's scant scientific evidence-based material to support their use. In places like the US, where we simply don't have to experiment with patients' lives, I'll stick to the science.

Now as to handing out things, HIV care isn't all just medications. It's about offering real hope; hope that AIDS-related death need not be the only prognosis; hope for a future filled with one's personal dreams and goals. It's a careful diagnostic monitoring of health conditions, HIV associated and non-HIV associated; it's a discussion about harm reduction (about transmission to loved ones and risk to self), preventive vaccinations; it's about diet, exercise, quitting smoking, mental health and quality of life. There's lots of research funding that go into these topics (although perhaps not as much as there should be, but that's a different topic). But, in the end, there is indeed much written on these pages about HIV medications. There's a reason for that.

The lack of an effective cure for HIV isn't proof of a conspiracy, rather it's simply that despite 2 decades of very serious scientists looking for strategies (and I think, billions of research into vaccines), simply none has worked yet.

One additional point, yes, pharmaceutical companies generally make money selling drugs. That's ok with me (for the record, I don't own stock in drug companies). How they go around selling and pricing their drugs could certainly be improved, but I don't agree with the notion that drug discovery investment should not go unrewarded. I'd rather see profit go to provide incentive for newer, better, safer and cheaper life saving medical products, rather than to companies that build better televisions or bombs (but that would make me a socialist?).

Lastly, all of us want a cure for HIV and a fully effective HIV preventive vaccination. Now this will sound like shill, but we already do have a cure for AIDS-related death. It's called early diagnosis and appropriate access and use of HIV medications. In parts of the world where at least the latter are available, HIV-related deaths are dramatically and durably reduced. The real challenge for today isn't new medication or "cure", but rather getting the hard-fought (and won) technology into the hands of millions of people who really need it.

There you have it. My opinion.

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