Recent news reports claim that in Malawi, giving out free AIDS drugs has reduced the death rate by 10% within 8 months. This ought to raise the eyebrows of anyone who knows how ineffective AIDS drugs really are, so closer scrutiny of the claims is required. One point revealed is that this happened after a new clinic was built. One of the problems immediately apparent with this claim is that they are comparing two periods of time, when conditions may have changed, not two parallel cohorts of patients.
The fact that the new clinic was involved immediately raises suspicions. Were the 'before' and 'after' groups of patients experiencing identical conditions except for the free AIDS drugs? Were AIDS drugs the only thing this clinic dispensed? Could they have been dispensing other health-related services and drugs too, such as malaria and TB, for instance? Were they offering other basic healthcare facilities that were previously unavailable? A potential clue here is that the study was funded by the global fund to AIDS, TB and Malaria, so quite possibly anti-TB and malaria drugs may have been dispensed too - but of course anyone with an HIV+ diagnosis is considered to have AIDS, despite the fact that both TB and Malaria have been acknowledged to provoke false positives on HIV tests.
So now already, a clearer likely picture is beginning to emerge. What we don't know is if this clinic also dispensed food or vitamins at all. We've noticed in a few studies that vitamins are included with the AIDS drug cocktail, presumably because of a recognition of the reality that giving toxic drugs to people who are malnourished makes the drugs on trial look bad. So giving nutritional supplements along with the toxic drugs is one way of making it look as though the drugs work - we don't know if that's the case or not here. We'll only know when we get a chance to study the full published paper properly. Watch this space.