The announcement of finding a probable cure for HIV/AIDS by the Dean of School of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Benin (UNIBEN), Prof. Isaiah Ibeh, has been welcomed with mixed reactions as medical bodies and experts express caution on such claims.
Even UNIBEN authorities have declined to be part of the development as the institution’s College of Medical Sciences Provost, Prof. Vincent Iyawe, said that in as much as the college would like to take credit for the development, “the college was not consulted” in the research and that the college did not conduct any test to ratify Prof. Ibeh’s claims.
“There are protocols and procedures. Going from stage to stage, we need to give it (the drug) clinical trials, which will involve taking it to the Federal Ministry of Health to undertake a clinical trial and many other things, are also involved. We will equally have to take it to NAFDAC, and many other stages have to be passed before you come out with your claim; in fact, we even need to take it to the World Health Organisation,” the provost said.
He asserted that the university is distancing itself from this breakthrough to protect Ibeh and the integrity of UNIBEN.
Apart from the University provost, experts in the Nigerian science and health sector have expressed caution on Ibeh’s claim.
Reacting to the Ibeh’s claim, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Health, Muhammad Pate told Nigerian Newspaper, The Guardian: “As you know there are well established standards required of evidence to support claims in orthodox medicine regarding new technologies, treatments or processes. I am not aware of the evidence behind this latest claim.”
“If the scientist making this claim wishes to take this further constructively there are established avenues for doing so…”
Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, Prof. John Idoko also called for serious vigilance in the acclaimed cure for HIV to avoid the mistakes of the past when Nigeria was brought to international ridicule.
According to him, “the process of identifying a drug that cures HIV takes years. You need a minimum of 10 to 15 years for a vaccine or drug. We need scientific proof and evidence before we go to town.”
In the past years, many have come out with claims like Ibeh’s that they have found cure to the dreaded disease. Some of them include Kogi-born Dr Jeremiah Abalaka, the proprietor and Chief Medical Director of Medicrest Specialist (private) Hospital in Gwagwalada, within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT); who about thirteen years ago claimed to have produced a vaccine that was both preventive and even curative of HIV/AIDS. Abalaka claimed that he had treated and cured soldiers who had just returned from peacekeeping in Liberia, and were infected with HIV/AIDS.
Although the Pharmacy Institute of Nigeria confirmed the vaccine as a valid cure for HIV/AIDS; the Nigerian Academy of Science as well as the Federal Ministry of Health refuted on the demand that the content of the vaccine should be scientifically tested.
Others who have made such claims and failed to be scientifically proven in the past also include a Kenyan immunologist, Dr Koech in 1990, the South African Health Minister, Dr. Nkosonana Dlamini-Zuma in 1997, and the renowned Zairean immunologist and head of the Medical Research Centre of the University of Kinshasa, Professor Lurhuma Ziriwabagabo, who in November 1987 introduced a drug, MM1.
Meanwhile, in reaction to the recent claim on the ‘cure’ to the deadly disease; President of the African Federation of Science Journalists and Knight Science Journalism Fellow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States, Diran Onifade said the report did not tell us the exact context of Ibeh’s announcement. In reporting inventions, the context is what counts the most.”
Diran, who is also the former Vice President of Canada-based World Federation of Science Journalists explained that, “The proper place to announce something as ground-breaking as a cure for HIV/AIDS is a credible platform such as a scientific conference or a peer reviewed journal.”
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)’s document confirmed that there are ethical considerations in HIV preventive vaccine research detailing how every vaccine search should undergo a rigorous standard procedure.
The document reads in part: “Given the global nature of the epidemic, the devastation being wreaked in some countries by it, the fact that vaccine(s) may be the best long term solution by which to control the epidemic, especially in developing countries, and the potentially universal benefits of effective HIV vaccines, there is an ethical imperative for global support to the effort to develop these vaccines. This effort will require intense international collaboration and co-ordination over time, including among countries with scientific expertise and resources, and among countries where candidate vaccines could be tested but whose infrastructure, resource base, and scientific and ethical capacities could be insufficient at present.”