Back in 2008, you couldn't turn on the TV without hearing the word "maverick." Presidential hopeful John McCain was a "maverick" who was always willing to challenge party fundamentals. His running mate, Sarah Palin, was a "maverick" because she ate elk for dinner. The Dallas Mavericks just are mavericks.
About every week, until election day and even after that, the word "maverick" was the butt of comedian Bill Maher's jokes. So it was interesting to see Maher call a man who claims to have cured cancer and AIDS a "medical maverick" and not mean it in a humorous way.
The Friday, Jan. 29 episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, featured alternative medicine specialist Samir Chachoua, M.B.B.S. Chachoua is most notable for the alternative HIV treatment he gave actor Charlie Sheen not long after Sheen's public disclosure in November.
The Chachoua/Maher interview was disturbing and confounding, to say the least. At the end of it all, I was left with a swirl of thoughts, anger and contempt for the "medical maverick" and his questionable research methods, as well as the pretend pundit who puts his agenda before the public good.
I think it's important for me to put my personal feelings about Maher on the table. He is a failed actor and an unfunny comedian. Somehow with a portfolio of two Murder, She Wrote episodes, Comedy Central and ABC both thought he'd make for a great politics talk show host. Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher aired from 1993 to 2002. It was finally cancelled after his remarks about the 9/11 hijackers and other comments that included comparing his dogs to "retarded children."
In 2003, HBO picked up the show, under a new name: Real Time With Bill Maher. During the past 14 seasons of the show, he has used his platform to attack religion, push racist theories that make absolutely no sense, promote anti-vaccine rhetoric, germ theory denialism and HIV denialists.
What gets me going about him is he adds nothing to the real conversation, particularly when it comes to health care.
In this interview with Chachoua, Maher seemed to be mesmerized by Chachoua's alternative approach just because it goes against western standards of medicine. He harps on the fact that Chachoua is an "independent researcher," comparing him to Pasteur and Salk.
It is odd that he would even bring up Louis Pasteur or Jonas Salk, since he takes issue with the germ theory of disease -- an area of scientific focus for Pasteur -- and Salk created a vaccine. But I digress.
While Chachoua was on the show, he explained what his treatment entailed. Turns out it's goat milk from an arthritic dairy goat. I'm not sure if that particular type of goat milk is available Whole Foods, but would love to know.
According to Chachoua, he went to an area that should be plagued with HIV because of the high number of injecting drug users and sex workers. But he found no instances of HIV. He attributed these remarkable findings to the regular consumption of goat milk. He also claims that the goat milk therapy cures cancer, liver damage, photophobia and a slew of Sheen's other medical problems.
He discovered this back in the mid '90s, he said, and was aggressively courted by Cedar Sinai because his work was "exciting, profound and more than 99 percent effective." But whatever courtship they had soured and Chachoua ended up suing the health system. Since then he hasn't been affiliated with any institution here in the United States, his native Australia or in Mexico, where he's developed his goat milk-based therapy.
Chachoua claims that his research study has been replicated by many other medical researchers and that his treatment method has eradicated HIV in countries such as Comoros, a small island off the coast of Africa. Not sure when Chachoua's treatment plan was used on this tiny island, but he appears to be right, HIV has been eradicated on Comoros. Kind of, but not really.
According to a UNAIDS report from 2014, there is zero percent prevalence of HIV in men who have sex with men and sex workers in Comoros. The prevalence of HIV in the general population, while small, is still there. Since the tiny island has an aggressive HIV education program, the low rates are probably due to outreach and not goat milk.
Searching PubMed, there is at least one study into the frequency of the serological reactivity in children who consume goat milk. This study was conducted in Mexico and doesn't seem to have been replicated by any researchers.
The closest thing I found relating to HIV and goat milk was an article from Heifer International, a charity organization that provides cows to poor people in developing nations as a means to grow wealth.
The Heifer International article, entitled "The Healing Power of Goat Milk" tells the story of a family in Rwanda. Both parents and at least one of their seven children are HIV positive. When the Heifer International program came to their village, they got a dairy goat, in addition to some gardening tools. The family used the goat milk not to cure their HIV but to increase their income and provide nourishment for their family.
"HIV-positive mothers are their biggest buyers. The women, who are weak from recent childbirth, recover more quickly if they drink goat milk. News of the milk's health benefits has spread and now even people without HIV will drink it," the article says.
There are many benefits to drinking goat milk. Goat milk is easier to digest, rich in calcium and fatty acids, helps boost the immune system, doesn't cause mucus buildup like cow's milk and is closer to the chemical makeup of a human mother's milk. And it tastes better than cow's milk, in my opinion. But what it doesn't do is cure HIV.
After doing independent research, while very low grade and not exhaustive, I am able to squarely call shenanigans on Chachoua. That's the thing about journalism that many who aren't real journalists don't understand. Even when your interview subject is your BFF, the Pope or someone else who fits into your theory of how the world works, you need to be able to see why people like me are calling shenanigans, and ask those hard questions.
Maybe Maher doesn't ask those hard questions because he is a maverick. Like John McCain was a maverick in foreign policy. Or like Sarah Palin is a maverick every time she speaks. Or like the referees in the 2006 NBA finals were mavericks of deceit. Or like Dr. Samir Chachoua is a medical research maverick.