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December 2016 – February 2017, Updated May 2017

Examples of media coverage: 

  1. Nigerian Scientists Claim To Have Discovered Complete Cure For HIV/AIDS – Nigerian Bulletin, December 13, 2016
  2. Michael Okpara varsity discovers new cure of HIV/AIDS – Daily Trust, February 1, 2017
  3. NACA, NCDC fault claims of HIV cure – Punch Newspapers, February 6, 2017
  4. Professor to ‘harmonise findings’ on HIV/AIDS cure claims – The Guardian, February 10, 2017

Original source(s):

  1. Journal article: HIV/AIDS Recovery Rates in Male and Female Patients, Treated with Medicinal synthetic Aluminum-magnesium silicate – British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research, November 24, 2016

TAG’s commentary:
This story relates to a professor of veterinary medicine named Maduike Ezeibe at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Nigeria, who has been stating that he has developed “medicinal synthetic aluminum-magnesium silicate” (MSAMS) as a cure for HIV for several years now. The latest media coverage was prompted by the publication of a paper in what appears to be a very untrustworthy, little-known scientific journal (the “British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research”).

Ezeibe is the lead author on the paper, and he claims to have “terminated” HIV infections using MSAMS combined with a nutritional supplement named Immunace Extra-Protection®. The paper is problematic for many reasons. Clinical trials in Nigeria require review and approval by the Nigerian National Health Research Ethics Committee (NHREC), but according to Ezeibe the ten HIV-positive individuals described in the paper were administered MSAMS by their personal doctors, who also performed monitoring. Worse, it is clear that Dr. Ezeibe does not understand how ethical human research is conducted – in previous papers he has written that participants were recruited by telling them that MSAMS is safe and effective and could cure HIV infection:

“Journal publications which reported that AMS is a safe medicine and those that reported antiviral effects of the MSAMS were used to counsel HIV/AIDS patients. Patients who became convinced that the Antivirt® is safe and can lead to cure of HIV/AIDS, applied through their physicians, for the clinical trial.”

The whole purpose of research is to discover if an experimental intervention is safe and effective, and it is a massively serious ethical violation to inform potential research participants that the intervention works.

The recent paper reports that MSAMS was administered to ten people (with no control group) and makes implausible claims about viral load decreases, CD4 T cell increases and participants rapidly becoming HIV seronegative (antibodies persist for long periods even if the antigen that induced them are cleared, this has been documented in the lone individual that rigorous studies have indicated is cured of HIV infection, Timothy Ray Brown).

The journal does provide a history of how the paper was reviewed, and—to their credit—one reviewer writes:

“The authors presented a paper where they have cured patients with HIV with an experimental drug. The authors should send us evidence (exams, documents proving that the research passed through ethical committees and clinical drug tests approval).”

However, the journal published the paper anyway. TAG’s email to journal editor Dr. Younes Smani asking why the paper was published did not receive a reply.

The media reports have prompted a response from the National Agency for the Control of Aids (NACA) and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), who pointed out that the research appears to have been performed improperly and that there is no evidence that MSAMS can cure HIV infection. The National Health Research Ethics Committee (NHREC) of the Federal Ministry of Health has also stated that they are now investigating Ezeibe’s research – a report is pending, but the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, has already stated: “at the National Health Research Committees level, there is no evidence that this researcher sought and obtained ethical approval.”

From the information available online, it seems that synthetic aluminum-magnesium silicate is primarily used as an additive caking agent for food and cosmetic products. There is some scientific literature relating to its use as a drug delivery vehicle. Aside from Ezeibe’s publications, there is no apparent literature suggesting that it has antiviral properties.

What is even more distressing about the situation is the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Nbibisi Iwe, has been quoted saying that they are being inundated with inquiries about MSAMS and may even be providing it to people:

“As one of the managers of the university, I know that there is a lot of requests coming from all over the places to the university for assistance and people have been receiving this assistance. And they have been attesting to it that this very assistance is useful to them.’’

The controversy has also prompted some unfortunate opinion pieces arguing that there should be less concern about the ethical conduct of the research and more acceptance of the possibility that a cure has been developed by a Nigerian researcher; these pieces fail to grasp that ethics are an integral part of the rigorous scientific evaluation of whether an intervention works. Any claim to have developed a cure for HIV infection must be backed by high quality, reproducible evidence, and that is clearly not the case here. To make a claim without such evidence is a grotesque exploitation of the hopes of many millions of people. It is unfortunate that Ezeibe’s claims have become entangled with issues of Nigerian national pride – there is no question that Nigerian scientists are capable of breakthroughs, but—as is the case for any scientist—claims of breakthroughs must be supported with compelling, verifiable evidence.

This posting will be updated when the complete report from the Federal Ministry of Health becomes available.

Update May 3, 2017:
The Lancet Infectious Diseases has posted a news story reporting on Ezeibe’s claims:

Claims of a cure for HIV come under fire (access free with registration) – Talha Burki, Lancet Infectious Diseases, May 2017

Sadly it is clear that Ezeibe, despite his academic credentials, is no different than other charlatans who have promoted false HIV cure claims. This is further confirmed in an interview he gave, where he makes it clear he is distributing his MSAMS substance widely and believes himself to be on a mission from God. The suggesttion that he is advising some HIV+ people to stop antiretroviral therapy is frightening and infuriating. Depending on exactly where and how MSAMS is being distributed, what Ezeibe is doing may be breaking laws.

The British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research has removed Ezeibe’s paper from their website and replaced it with a message stating that an investigation is being conducted.

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