Pursuing Woo in Africa

Alexander Pope wrote “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” but cancer isn’t far behind.  Yet when hope springs, it can lead the sick to the unproven, to more dire disease, and death.  On Respectful Insolence, Orac tells the stories of two women—one Kenyan, one American—who avoided modern treatment for their breast cancers.  Orac writes, “Neglected tumors like this often bleed or rot—or both. It’s truly horrible to behold, and at this point there is nothing a surgeon can do except to recommend local wound care and hope that the chemotherapy works.”  Sometimes it’s not too late.  And sometimes even the earliest cancer is a foregone conclusion.  But in between, making an informed decision can save your life.  Meanwhile, on ERV, Abbie Smith writes that Gambian president Yahya Jammeh claims to have cured sixty-eight patients of HIV and AIDS with his “secret pot of herbs.”  Jammeh promises to integrate natural “medicine” into all the nation’s hospitals.


Working to End HIV

Could HIV soon follow in the footsteps of smallpox and polio?  On The Pump Handle, Sara Gorman says that recent research has “allowed political figures such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to proclaim that the phenomenon of a generation without HIV/AIDS is within reach.”  But no vaccine has proven effective at curtailing HIV infection, and a new prophylactic called Truvada could select for drug-resistant versions of the virus.  On ERV, Abbie Smith explains that researchers have traced the origin of HIV to a single population of chimpanzees in West-Central Africa, thanks to “3108 samples of monkey poop.”  Chimps elsewhere carry similar loads of immunodeficiency virus, but their variants are not fit to infect humans.  Until we can stop HIV, can we slow it down without further enhancing its fitness?

Not Enough to Swallow

On Denialism Blog, Mark Hoofnagle writes that a wide array of drugs, from antibiotics to steroids to diuretics and chemotherapeutics, are in short supply around the country. Hoofnagle explains, “The drugs affected span all classes, what they have in common is they are all generic.” Because of the low profit margin on generic drugs, “manufacturers try to cut costs where they can, they export production abroad (and away from FDA oversight), and keep supplies low.” Quality suffers, and with only a few companies producing certain drugs, disruptions can have far-reaching (and deleterious) effects. Should government subsidize the manufacture of generic medicine, or take it away from the free market? On Respectful Insolence, Orac covers a far simpler course of treatment: wishing, and hoping, and thinking, and praying. New studies show that alternative medicine is no more effective than a placebo, but one advocate says the placebo effect is proof of the Law of Attraction. Maybe surgical patients can just visualize more anaesthetic? Finally, Abbie Smith cannot believe that the FDA has granted expedited approval for a daily pill to protect against HIV infection. Smith writes that in large clinical trials, “Tenofovir didnt work well at all […] There is *no* experimental evidence to suggest that is a good idea right now.” The drug could actually lead to more new infections—and cause permanent kidney damage.