Document:Debating AZT foreword
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The upside of democracy is that every citizen has the right of access to information, the right to express, exchange and debate different points of view and, finally, to a vote. The downside, of course, is that each citizen is burdened with the responsibility of having to think for himself. That, in a nutshell, is what the investigative magazine noseweek is about, and why, prompted by the author of this book nearly two years ago, noseweek published a series of articles titled "Rethinking AIDS".
For the first time South Africans were exposed to a critical re-evaluation of HIV and AZT undertaken by a number of very eminent scientists.
Clearly, many South Africans, reared in a society where for half a century they were forbidden to think for themselves, now find it too onerous a responsibility. They long for the quick fix. If AIDS is a problem, there must be a pill for it – which the government must pay for. Anyone, be it politician or pharmaceutical company, who is prepared to offer them that assurance, no matter how recklessly, is eagerly assumed to be right – because that lets us off the hook and instantly makes us feel good. The fact that it may not make the AIDS sufferers feel any better is, apparently, of no consequence.
Conversely, anyone who raises questions about AIDS exposes our vulnerability, and clearly makes many people, including the president of the South African Medical Research Council and the editor of the Mail and Guardian, very, very angry. Some abandon any attempt at thought – such as Sunday Times writer Laurice Taitz, who, in reporting the AZT controversy, gaily took it upon herself to declare to her readers: “the truth is the drug is not toxic.” Read this book and you will know why I say the Sunday Times clearly does not take AIDS seriously when it assigns a writer of Ms. Taitz’s intellectual ability to the subject. And that when Dr. William Makgoba, president of the Medical Research Council, declares he has read nothing critical about the effects of AZT on infants, this is a reflection not of the state of science on the matter, but of his own arrogant indolence.
Anthony Brink is a citizen who takes his rights and his responsibilities seriously. He has written a book for every intelligent citizen to read. If you are not a member of those professions, do not be intimidated by the medical and pharmacological terminology. Simply stick with the argument. It is devastatingly clear.
Reading this debate about AZT between Brink, a Pietermaritzburg advocate, and Dr. Des Martin, president of the Southern African HIV/AIDS Clinicians Society, leads one to reflect on the question: “What is an expert?” Dr. Martin may have the credentials of expertise, but Brink has the intelligence, investigative zeal and adherence to the principles of scientific enquiry that make for authority on this subject. He has tracked and digested every important reference to AZT in contemporary medical literature. The result is a comprehensive and alarming review of the findings of medical researchers on the clinical use of the drug.
AZT was originally prescribed in high doses on its own as a therapy for people who tested HIV-positive. Other journalists have reported the fraudulent nature of the clinical trials on which this usage was based. When independent, much larger trials eventually showed that when HIV-positive individuals who showed no sign of illness used AZT, it significantly increased, rather than decreased, their chances of developing AIDS – and of dying – this regimen was quietly dropped. That this has not yet become a major medical scandal is testament to the power and resources of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoWellcome, and, by extension, the industry as a whole.
Now there are new, even more dangerous claims made for AZT, supported by well-funded lobbies. Anthony Brink demonstrates the sort of ability and dedication needed to properly scrutinise those claims. If you have any better information and arguments, let me know.
© 2000 by Martin Welz