IN a recent judgment, the Federal High Court in Makurdi lifted the ban on the use of Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV) vaccines, which its discoverer, Dr Jeremiah Abalaka, claims could cure infected persons and prevent new HIV infections.
The HIV therapy of Abalaka, which generated a lot of controversy for years in Nigeria, was banned by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Following the epoch-making judgment, concerned citizens and stakeholders in health sector have been expressing mixed feelings about the public perception of the vaccines.
Abalaka, an Abuja-based medical practitioner, had filed a lawsuit against the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for outlawing the use of the vaccines which he discovered in 1999 for the treatment and prevention of HIV.
The co-defendants in the suit were the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Testifying before the court, Abalaka, who also called three witnesses, said that he discovered a recipe to turn the virus in the infected blood of an HIV infected person into both preventive and curative vaccines.
He said that he applied for the patent of the discovery, adding that the application was granted on July 22, 1999.
“I wrote to health institutions and authorities in Nigeria to draw their attention to the discovery to enable them to collaborate with me in efforts to test and confirm the breakthrough.
“This was in order to bring succour to sufferers of HIV but the letters were ignored,’’ he said.
Abalaka claimed that the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) took him up on the discovery and confirmed the potency of the drugs.
“This was done through a report on February 28, 2000, but the Federal Government discontinued further collaboration with me and the institute,’’ he told the court.
He also said that various agencies of the Federal Government, including its hospitals, had purchased the vaccines from him and applied them on HIV positive persons, claiming that many of them were cured.
“When the government discovered that the vaccines were potent, it sent agents to me with the sum of N10 million for the breakthrough to be announced in Atlanta, Georgia, in the U.S., but I refused,’’ he said.
Abalaka alleged that his vaccines were then banned from being used for the treatment of HIV in Nigeria by NAFDAC.
His counsel, Mr Paul Omale, had urged the court to determine whether the defendants had justifiable reasons to ban the vaccines.
He further urged the court to determine whether the defendants had shown any harmful side-effects of the vaccines.
However, the counsel to the defendants, Mr Uche Ezekwesili, could not call witnesses to justify the ban placed on the vaccines.
Justice Binta Nyako then said that since there was no cure for HIV yet, it was only fair for the defendants to have allowed the plaintiff (Abalaka) to use the vaccines on infected persons.
The court, therefore, restrained the Federal Government and NAFDAC from further interfering with the use of the vaccines.
But the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) insists that there are some basic scientific approaches to determining the veracity of any claims made on the cure of HIV and AIDS.
Responding to Abalaka’s claim, Dr Bilali Camara, the Country Director of UNAIDS for Nigeria, said: “The following questions are essential for any vaccine trial to take place and be accepted scientifically:
“Is there a protocol designed to support Abalaka’s HIV vaccine trial? Who approved the protocol? Which medical ethical review board has approved it? Who has followed up on the rolling out of that protocol?
“Which agency was following up the implementation of the vaccine trial? Where were the results of Abalaka’s vaccine trial published? In which medical journal were they published?
“This is not a political or legal issue; it is rather a medical ethics issue and it should be treated that way,’’ Camara added.
However, Abalaka said that the UNAIDS document, for which government “has continued to persecute me since 2000 for not abiding by its guidelines, did not contemplate the rights and capabilities of developing world scientists to conceive or produce candidate HIV preventive vaccines.
“I decided to quietly continue my HIV work, which was subsequently published by a reputable international medical journal of the Western world called ‘Vaccine’, 22 (2004) from page 3819 to 3828.
“The work is entitled: Attempts to cure and prevent HIV/AIDS in central Nigeria between 1997 and 2002: Opening a way to a vaccine-based solution to the problem?
“At my expense, I made more than 500 copies of that 10-page report and circulated it to all relevant authorities.
“‘Vaccine’ is the pre-eminent journal for those interested in vaccines and vaccination. It serves as an interface between academics, those in research and development, and workers in the field,’’ Abalaka said.
In the judgment, the court held that “since there was no evidence before the court that the guidelines for assessment of the drug/vaccines had been put in place in the past 15 years and it appeared that there was none in the offing, the ban of the plaintiff’s vaccine was done arbitrarily.’’
The court judgment notwithstanding, Abalaka admitted that he had never claimed to have discovered a cure or prevention for AIDS.
“I have only developed safe and effective vaccines for the prevention and treatment of HIV, the causative agent of AIDS.
“Indeed, HIV and AIDS are two very widely different conditions; while HIV infection is curable and preventable, AIDS, the late terminal stage of HIV infection, is not.
“In other words, the syndrome, AIDS, is advanced HIV infection plus one or more other opportunistic conditions such as infections and/or cancers.
“As such, it is preposterous and unscientific for any person to claim to have discovered cure or prevention for AIDS, the late terminal stage of advanced HIV infection,’’ he said.
In spite of any claims by scientists like Abalaka, the Federal Government insists that all Nigerians should discountenance claims of unverified AIDS cure.
The government, therefore, advises all HIV and AIDS patients to always report at government hospitals for testing and treatment

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