Multivitamins only relieve our morality

What a relief! After years of consumers being assaulted withclaims that vitamins are a panacea for life’s ills, it turns out -according to a new study sponsored by Harvard University andpublished in The New England Journal of Medicine – they are. Thefindings of an eight-year study of HIV-infected women in Tanzaniashow that a high-dose multivitamin slows the onset of the AIDS andits most recognizable symptoms.

“It’s a low-cost intervention that could result in major savingsand be helpful to many individuals in terms of better quality oflife,” said Dr Wafie Fawzi of the Harvard School of Public Health.I couldn’t agree more about the low cost, the major savings and itshelpfulness. What is still disgusting, verging on inhumane, is theongoing denial by Western institutions of health and governmentthat AIDS in Africa will only be stopped by aggressive AIDS drugs,whose low-cost distribution is blocked by the pharmaceuticalindustries that make them and the governments that pander to theirinterests. In the meantime, researchers like Dr. Fawzi are resignedto dosing HIV-infected Tanzanians with vitamins.

Yes, vitamins. And, yes, of course, Tanzanians should havevitamins, should already have vitamins, right? It can also beconsensually asserted that clean water, clean air, ongoing doctorvisits, medicine for minor illnesses and AIDS drugs (which areavailable only for the world’s wealthiest people) would also slowthe onset of immune-deficiency related illnesses.

Studies like the one undertaken at Harvard may be inherentlynoble but the conclusions are so obviously ridiculous (by theirobviousness) that they border on the satirical. Alarmingly, itillustrates the chasm between the health of the poorest parts ofAfrica and the world of the researchers. I feel pangs for Dr. Fawziand his staff as they attempt to reduce the eruption of AIDS bydiscovering something, anything that will be afforded by Westernand African governments. Indeed, the results of the study makepainfully clear that vitamins are $15 a year per person compared to$300 a year for the most current AIDS drugs. Therefore, themultivitamin solution should be seen as a low-cost plea by themedical community to address this crisis in worldwide public healthand global stability.

According to the Associated Press analysis of the study, “18 ofthe 271 women who took multivitamins, or 7 percent, developed AIDS(compared with 31 of the 267 women, or 12 percent, who took a dummypill). Nineteen percent in the multivitamin group and 25 percent inthe comparison group died, but the difference was not statisticallysignificant.” This “statistical significance” is the dark heart ofthe policies of Western countries towards AIDS in Africa. And nomatter how well intentioned the study, fighting AIDS with vitaminsis only an acceptable alternative in the bloodstained field of ourhypocritical morality.