Western Aids experts have poured cold water on reports from Armenia of a possible cure for the killer disease.
The treatment, Armenicum, is under development in Yerevan in Armenia, where there are claims that even very ill patients have been cured. But no results from rigorously monitored clinical trials have been published.
However, the rumours of a cure have been enough to prompt dozens of Americans and others from the West to travel to Armenia.
An investigation for the BBC World Service’s Discovery programme found no clear evidence that the drug was a success.
And western experts who have examined patients returning from Armenia following treatment are also highly sceptical.
Dr Manfred Dietrich, of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, carried out blood tests on Armenicum patients.
He told: “Since we saw high numbers of virus in the blood, it did not have any retroviral effect. I would not recommend at all to take such a drug.”
He suggested that Armenicum might actually make patients more susceptible to the HIV virus.
Dr Sergei Litvinoff, the Director of Infectious Diseases for the World Health Organisation in Europe, said virtually nothing was known outside Armenia about the drug.
He said: “My question is whether their treatment with this Armenicum was also undertaken by other institutions or laboratories in different countries.
“I repeat and repeat again we have not enough information - I would like to know more.”
Armenicum is a deep brown solution given by injection to the patients.
Staff at the Yerevan clinic have been declaring the effectiveness of their creation.
Dr Levon Makhatarian said: “Armenicum is highly effective in improving the patient’s quality of life.
“In particular, it improves the most common symptoms like fatigue, weakness, malaise, sweating, itching, pain in the liver and gall bladder area.”
He did stop short of pronouncing it a cure for HIV.
Claims about drug
However, others in Armenia have not been so reticent about the powers of the drug.
Press reports from the country suggest that all patients using Armenicum “say they feel great changes after receiving injections so they feel a strong desire to walk, run and simply live on”.
The only side effects, they claim, are soreness at the injection site and an initial fever and headache.
In the UK, Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said that the evidence produced so far on Armenicum was “anecdotal”.
“We cannot comment until we have seen the results of some proper randomised controlled trials,” said a spokesman.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD