By Ahmed Shokry
“I feed the patient on the virus! I take the virus from the patient and return it back to him as a piece of “Kofta” to be fed on!” the man in uniform said “And this is the peak of scientific miracles!” He proudly concluded.
I was watching this funny video a few minutes after finishing an important clinical test in Atlanta City,Georgia.
“Haha! He is a lot of fun!” I said, “Which show is this?” I asked my friend who showed me that video on his mobile phone.
“I am sorry to tell you” a fellow doctor informed me “this isn’t a comic show, It is a press conference” He said, “I didn’t want to show you this video until you finished your exams”.
I had deactivated my Facebook account only 10 days ago- and now everyone is talking about the kofta-man! For a few minutes I still thought there might be something wrong that I didn’t understand. Two hours later, on my way back from Atlanta to Birmingham-Alabama, I had a call from a friend who is a pediatric heam-oncologist in a prestigious hospital in US.
“Ahmad! I haven’t slept for two days! I am really depressed by what I have seen! This is not something to laugh at, or to make sarcastic comments or jokes about! This is a real catastrophe” He yelled, allowing no interruption on my side, “I will explain why. We don’t have but only two possibilities concerning what that man said: either he is a liar and our people are being manipulated, and let’s be generous and say that this is a 99% possibility. The issue here is not just that they are manipulating us –but in the most humiliating andunprofessional manner! And apparently the best to come out of their minds. You know what I consider even worse, is that people and the media actually bought this! They were convinced – or wanted to persuade themselves to buy such a stupidly presented lie. Theother 1% possibility is that the invention is a real medical cure and in such a case it’s a different catastrophe; is this the way to present an invention or a discovery? I am really depressed.”
When I got back to Birmingham the issue was raised with a well-established Pakistani Hepatologist in Alabama and to quote (please try to imagine how the following sentence in his accent and a sarcastic tone): “Yes! I heard him saying that he is going to convert HIV to Kabab!” It is worthy to mention that in most of the Mediterranean restaurants in US they name what we callkofta as kabab.
Regardless, I will not speak about the political aspect of the issue, but will try to analyze what happened to understand it together. An honorary General wearing military field uniform spoke in an unscientific language to a press conference declaring that a scientific team belonging to the army has been working on a cure of two different types of viruses affecting two different systems. Then we heard in the media that the new invention is not for treatment it is just for diagnosis. Other talk shows declared that the device is for the treatment not just the diagnosis. Then they declared that there are two devices one for diagnosis and the other for treatment. Nobody mentioned the “two devices” issue in the notorious press conference. Differing and contradictory stories were given. But the most amusing part is that none of thosestories are even remotely credible. Nevertheless, in the following paragraphs I will analyze some aspects of these stories.
Before discussing the proposed treatment of both HCV and HIV viruses, I will need to explain their functions. In general, viruses are described as “obligate intracellular”. It means that they are not really living organisms outside the human body. They don’t have a cell wall, cell membrane or organelles that can carry out metabolic functions of a living cell. They are roughly composed of an outer protein coat that envelopes DNA or RNA strand(s). Those DNA or RNA strands carry the genetic code of a disease. A virus has to introduce its DNA or RNA to the human or animal cell to be fused into its DNA. Then it starts to be replicated (multiplied) through a complicated process that varies between different types of viruses via different enzymes. Antivirals – the drugs meant to treat viral infections – work on different stages of the process of the infection or in other words to arrest the process of cellular infection through inhibiting one of its stages. They work – roughly – through one of the following mechanisms:
1- Preventing the attachment of the virus to the cellular membrane or its entry.
2- Preventing the replication of the viral genome (DNA or RNA)
3- Preventing synthesis (making) of some viral proteins
4- Preventing assembly or release of the new infectious viral material (virions).
The new device – according its developers – works through destructing the virus to break it down to its elementary elements which can be consumed by the body as a source of protein. The head of the team, the now famous General Dr. Abdelaty, claimed that he orders his patients to restrict protein diet to protect them from some kind of protein overload after the breakage down of all the viruses in their bodies. According to Dr. Islam Hussein – who is a very well established researcher specialized in virology in the prestigious MIT in US and with a PhD in virology from the equally prestigious Cambridge in UK – the total weight of the whole viral material in a high loaded patient will be even too small to be calculated accurately. That was a way to distract the audience from questioning the liability of the device or to convince the audience of the existence of such a device.An interesting part is that 3 “scientists” who belong to the team identified different mechanisms of action to destruct the virus. One of them declared that it works in the viral genome (RNA), others tried to make it even more convincing and mentioned some mysterious scientific expression to the layman audience which was “protein 24”. Simply put and strangely enough, this protein 24 is some sort of an inner coating to the viral RNA which differs totally in its structure from that of the viral RNA. One has to question whether these three colleagues are talking about the same device. One even more funny thing was what the freshly graduated chemist said about targeting the viral particles through some radio waves ignoring the fact that the HIV genome is integrated into the human DNA, and the new outer coating of the virus after being released is made up of the human cell membrane. If you are going to target its structure you will definitely affect the normal cell membranes of the normal body cells. Yet, whenquestioned about this he replied that such information was classified and too complicated for a layman to understand. Furthermore, and in all confidence, the “scientist” replied to Dr. Yehia Elshazli – a professor ofhepatology and gastroenterology – by saying that he would easily deceive him with some physics terminology. With such a bold and insulting statement, he automatically declared himself a liar. One interesting thing to add is that this is a 22 year old chemist with no publications who joined the project only a few months after his graduation as his uncle is a General in the army, all according to the young chemist himself.
Another distracting detail was the stages or the phases needed for any medical treatment before being applied to human beings. A member of the team – a university professor-, mentioned some scientific words such as “in vivo” and “in vitro” which simply means inside the living body and outside it, respectively. Making no sense to anyone trying to precisely understand the phases.Needless to say that in every phase made for a trial of a drug or a device, a paper and/or additional research documentation is published to declare the results of suchphase. However, no papers were published about the phases of either device, except for one paper – about the C-fast the diagnosis device not the CCD – published in an unknown journal with no impact factor (an index for the efficacy of scientific journals). The same member stated on air that would discuss the device in an international scientific conference in China, after receiving a highly welcoming celebrating letter from the conference organizing committee. And to further impress the audience, he started reading their email and to translate the formal word “after deep consideration” as if it werean admiring expression. Either that was a lie or the professor’s English is not that good!
Unfortunately, this is not everything that can be said to expose the hoax of the military-claimed scientific miracle. But I am genuinely concerned with the tragic consequences of this hoax. The tragedy lies in how thepublic perceived it. I am not talking about how dangerous it is to find that a lot of people of different levels of education actually believed or wanted to believe it. I will not even discuss the Egyptian media’s role in celebrating utter nonsense whilst attacking some of the very well respected Egyptian scientific figures like Dr.Essam Heggy. The real tragedy is in what was published in Buzzfeed under the title: “Why the miracle cure offered to Egyptians with Hepatitis C isn’t funny”. A 52 year old man suffering from advanced, untreated hepatitis with a failing liver, a father of two handicapped daughters who doesn’t have the time or the money to receive the treatment for Hepatitis C, a pregnant teacher who doesn’t know how she will prevent her baby from becoming infected with the disease, and millions of people in this country around 20% of the population carry the hepatitis C virus. People started to save money because they believed that in a way or two they will have to pay a lot of money to get the chance to be treated by the new medical miracle. Even paying significant amounts in bribes due to such a belief, just to be placedin the lists of those to be treated whilst the dominant fewmaliciously took advantage of the dreams of millions.
With no choice and no real medical treatment available,many believed in this simply because they wanted to believe. It is their only chance to live, to take care of their children. I can’t imagine anything crueler than manipulating and using the poor’s faint dream of survival, of curing their fathers, mothers, wives or husbands. I wonder how those who participated in that hoax feel? I am not only accusing those who designed the whole con, I am also accusing those who agreed to participate in this crime. If you insist on confusingpolitics with science, don’t involve people with a graver complaint in the game.
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