CAMPUS AND CULTURE
Searching for a new approach: The alternative side to living with HIV
HIV and AIDS: we need to start listening again
Treatment and prevention
Treatment and prevention
By Helen Muleme
It is routinely accepted HIV leads directly to AIDS. However, in the last 17 years, a growing number of people have begun to question this premise.
Skeptics argue HIV does not necessarily lead to AIDS, conventional AIDS drugs are ineffective and make people more ill and the HIV test itself is flawed.
Terry Dobbin, a spokesman for Health Education AIDS Liaison, explained HEAL is a support and information group for people who are HIV positive and have chosen not to follow conventional treatment methods.
Founded in 1984, HEAL's mandate is to question and debate the "HIV equals AIDS" theory and publish alternative information.
HEAL argues the medical definition of AIDS is too broad and is detrimental to the health of the patient because it is viewed as a death sentence. Once the theory HIV leads to AIDS is removed, the reason for sickness changes and there are numerous possibilities for the root of AIDS, he explained.
"The goal of the organization is to open up debate," Dobbin said. "It is not necessarily HIV that makes people sick."
"Within the HIV positive community, HEAL works to provide accurate information on alternatives to conventional drugs, like holistic and naturopathic remedies," he said.
The side-effects of conventional drugs including liver damage and physical deformities due to fat redistribution can actually make people more ill than the HIV itself, Dobbin explained.
HEAL's alternatives include detoxification, naturopathic immune boosters and promotion of general health for body and mind.
Christine Maggiore tested HIV positive in 1992. She came in contact with HIV through a boyfriend in 1985. However, subsequent tests showed positive, negative and indeterminate results.
In 1998, she founded Alive and Well. Their mandate includes providing a support system for AIDS and HIV patients, information, legal advice and education. "We're in the business of helping people," she said.
Maggiore has opted not to take conventional AIDS drugs as a result of negative side-effects. "The people I saw who were on the drugs were becoming sicker and dying in front of me. My health has improved since testing positive. I have wonderful health without side-effects," she said.
To remain healthy, Maggiore maintains a positive attitude and does not even consider herself sick, she said.
Instead, Maggiore keeps healthy by choosing an organic diet, taking vitamins and supplements and using homeopathic remedies instead of conventional drugs.
Maggiore's four-year-old son Charley has not been tested for HIV. "The test doesn't do what it's supposed to do. It's invalid. If he tested positive to [this] invalid test, he would be subjected to toxic drugs in defiance of his perfect health."
One of the greatest tragedies of AIDS is that people don't know there are choices that go beyond death and drugs, Maggiore added.
The alternative approach is not supported by a majority of the academic community. Bill Thompson, director of the HIV clinic at St. Joseph's Hospital, said the best treatment remains medication. "There has been a tremendous reduction in death rates since [AIDS] medications have come on to the market," he said.
Thompson said one should compare having HIV to holding a bucket that has a hole in the bottom. Bad cells come in at the top of the bucket and force the good cells out of the hole at the bottom, but if there is not a lot of virus cells and the good cells keep producing, the virus will not progress. The way the medicine works is by plugging up the hole at the bottom of the bucket.
"There are 15 different available medicines. The first one, AZT, appeared in 1987 and one or two have been developed each year since," he said.
Administering treatment is not without complications.
Patients are not put on medication immediately after diagnosis, Thompson said, adding it is necessary to balance the side effects of the medication with the immune effects it will cause on the patient.
The lifestyle the patient leads while taking the medication depends entirely on the individual and the choice of drugs.
If a patient decides not to take medication, it is entirely their choice, but they need to be aware of the risks involved, he said. "The alternative side may have some help but it does not offer major help. They cannot provide scientific evidence to show how holistic medicine has helped," he added.