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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Thai charity ditches Aids 'cure'
AIDS campaign poster in Thailand
Up to a million Thais are HIV positive
A leading charity in Thailand has admitted that a drug it has been distributing to patients suffering from HIV, the virus that leads to Aids, does not work.

It had been giving the drug, called V-1 Immunitor, free of charge to thousands of patients, after its developers claimed it brought dramatic improvements in the health of HIV victims.

Now the Salang Bunnag Foundation says it will no longer hand out the drug in its clinics.

Zidovudine anti-AIDS pills
More effective drugs are being developed
"We found that we were fooled by the company producing the pill. We have stopped distributing it," Dr Sek Aksaranukroh told the AP news agency.

The inventors of V-1 Immunitor claimed this simple pill contained an ingredient that provokes the body's immune system to attack HIV-infected cells.

V-1 Immunitor is made from the blood of HIV-positive patients along with calcium and magnesium.

Queues

People came from all over Thailand and even from abroad, and queued in their hundreds outside the clinics set up by the charity.

According to Jonathan Head, the BBC correspondent in Bangkok, many patients claimed to experience dramatic improvements in their health after taking it.

HIV sufferer Phanupong Khaisri
The disease has ravaged families across Thailand
Others said they were willing to try it whatever its effects, since conventional HIV drugs are far too expensive for most Thais.

Some of those same patients now admit the improvements were just temporary, says Jonathan Head, and doctors at the charity have finally accepted that V-1 is not a miracle cure.

Launch new window : Aids in the Far East
Click to see the Far East's growing epidemic

Estimates put the number of Thais having HIV - the virus which can lead to Aids - at between 750,000 and 1.5 million.


We found that we were fooled by the company producing the pill. We have stopped distributing it.

Dr Sek Aksaranukroh
Most infected people in Thailand have no access to drugs that have been successfully used in the West.

Promboon Panitchpakdi from the aid group Care Thailand told the BBC: "Many people will do almost anything to try a drug in which they only have 10% faith, because what other choices do they have?"

Guinea pigs

Alex Renton from the Bangkok office of the Oxfam aid agency told BBC News Online last month that Thailand is becoming a dumping ground for other treatments that have been tested unsuccessfully elsewhere.

"We are seeing some international companies using Thai HIV-positive people as guinea pigs to try out drugs that in some cases have already failed their trials in Europe and the United States," he said.

"There is a lot of money to be made by evil people through this disease."

A less expensive version of the standard anti-retroviral cocktail of drugs is now being manufactured in Thailand, and thousands of Thai volunteers are involved in the world's largest trial of a new HIV vaccine.

See also:

13 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
03 Jul 02 | Health
15 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
21 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
09 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
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