THE EXTENT of AID$ Inc. UK's duplicity in responding to government diktats - and the dire implications that are arising as vital aspects of gay health policy are hijacked and dictated by faceless NHS bureaucrats and management consultants - hit home on November 1, 2006.
That was the day the THT launched an aggressive campaign to promote PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), the intervention antiretroviral cocktail originally developed for hospital staff accidentally exposed to HIV; a 28-day course of unproven, noxious AIDS drugs that may prevent the virus developing in the body if started within 72 hours after exposure. Ever since, THT has intensively blitzed major gay media including club magazines, teens website Puffta, hardcore hook-up sites and social venues such as Play Zone-endorsed sex clubs and saunas where PEP is being actively prescribed by specially trained "health workers", prompting some to speculate that PEP promotion is tied into funding THT receives from the pharmaceutical industry (Glaxo, which manufactures Combivir, a constituent of PEP, is a major THT donor).
"I met an HIV+ on the net who shocked me when he said he had fucked a guy without protection, came inside him, disclosed afterwards, and then advised him how to get PEP."
~ John Williams [Positive Nation]
"We can saturate the gay press with information about PEP and there will still be men who need to know about it who don't," opined THT spin doctor Nutland at the launch of the PEP advertising campaign with an urgency not afforded to warning the same target audience about the need for safe sex, nor the significant risks of contracting HIV while high on crystal meth and other disinhibiting drugs, nor the devastation meth inflicts on the already compromised immune systems of those with HIV and its potential for accelerating progression to full-blown AIDS and death. And at a time when:
• Record HIV transmission rates were being confirmed by government figures;
• 35% of under 21s were routinely engaging in unprotected sex with 40% unaware of their status, according to an 800-strong survey of gay teenagers;
• Manchester police confirmed the widespread infiltration of crystal meth into the UK's second largest gay scene;
• A well-known scene-goer was found dead in his London flat, choked on his vomit and surrounded by needles which he had used to inject meth, while a 25-
year-old overdosed on GHB at London gay club Fire and subsequently died.
"The analogy [of PEP] with the morning after pill is very interesting. We [in the US] were promised that was going to solve the problem when it became available over the counter. But I predicted five years ago that in fact it would worsen the problem of sexually transmitted infection."
~ Dr. Trevor Stammers [Sexual health expert]
The minority of MSM who genuinely - as opposed to recklessly or intentionally - slip-up and "need to know" about PEP is clearly out of all proportion to the majority who need to be:
• Frankly informed about the reality of what HIV is and how it is spread;
• Educated properly how to apply condoms so that they don't break in the first place;
• Made fully aware of the dangers of correlated sexual health risks like hard drug use.
Implementing such campaigns would negate the need to obsessively promote PEP in the first place at the expense of vital preventive campaigns, not to mention the exorbitant cost to the taxpayer via the NHS which picks up the £600+ bill each time a course of PEP is prescribed, and not always for accidental exposure to HIV.
Of 30 men interviewed by Sigma Research who had used PEP, 50% said they'd sought it out following unprotected sex with someone they knew to be HIV+ as opposed to a condom breaking.
Of 185 people prescribed PEP at St. Mary's hospital in London between June 2005 and June 2006, 80% were MSM, nearly half of whom had had unprotected passive anal sex, mostly in casual situations. 8% of the PEP prescribed was for MSM who had taken PEP before, indicating a sizeable subgroup repeatedly trying to ‘manage’ high-risk sex. A study of repeat users of PEP at the Mortimer Market and St Thomas’s STD clinics in London and Brighton compared with one-off prescribers were found to be nearly four times as likely to have had further unsafe sex in the three months after requesting PEP and with twice as many partners. None of the one-offs had sex with a known positive partner in the three months after PEP, whereas 38% of repeat-prescribers did.
When asked why, in such a volatile climate, THT was targeting the consequences of unsafe sex instead of balancing its aggressive PEP strategy by also high-lighting the causes of HIV infection - and despite PEP's growing reputation as a "morning after pill"; its efficacy being questioned by leading AIDS doctors (how do you prove the reason for a negative outcome?); its uptake in the UK being disappointingly low for the pharmaceutical companies concerned, despite the promotional overkill; users experiencing many of the chronic side effects associated with AIDS drugs that force many to stop using after a few days; PEP's ability to cause the body to develop resistance to future use of antiretrovirals; each course costing the cash-strapped NHS vital funds that it is refusing to spend on life-saving cancer and Alzheimer's drugs; and amid major NHS cutbacks and the looming spectre of widescale cancer and HIV drug rationing - Nutland admitted:
"THT is undertaking this work because national HIV prevention strategies and guidance articulates that PEP provision should be one part of the UK's HIV prevention response. This has been articulated by the Chief Medical Officer."
Clarifying his response, Nutland provided a "smoking gun" memo from the UK's former Chief Medical Officer, Liam Donaldson, dated April 6, 2006 and issued to "All Chief Executives of Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities in England", highlighting the extent to which THT has morphed into a thinly-veiled state-funded/run quango; effectively a government front with a remit to protect commercial interests (i.e. no longer a gay men's health charity driven by gay men for the benefit of gay men). In the memo, the Chief Medical Officer - who, in August 2009, announced that GlaxoSmithKline had been awarded the Government contract to provide millions of doses of unused swine flu vaccine, a spectacularly ill-fated miscalculation that cost the UK billions - states:
"I would...ask you to ensure that PEP is part of the spectrum of sexual health services for your local populations." [Click here for full memo]
As if to hammer the message home, in an identical pact of allegiance to its chief paymaster, GMFA launched its own PEP "sand timer" campaign at the same time as THT's fire extinguisher PEP campaign in the same media, with both ads rotating on the same internet hook-up sites.
The extent to which government interference has affected the direction of gay men's health in the UK via a conniving HIV sector - whose concentration of resources to aggressively promote a volatile, noxious pharmaceutical drug that few responsible MSM are ever genuinely likely to need, while sending out a clear message to others that it can be used as a "quick fix" if taken a morning or two after engaging in reckless sex - is symptomatic of AID$ Inc. UK's blind arrogance and lack of accountability in confronting major health issues.
"Gay men's health requires a radical overhaul; from the government and pharmaceutical industry arm it’s become into an independent, self-funded entity run by gay men who won’t sell the rest of us down the river and allow our health to be compromised and jeopardised by outsiders with dubious interests and sinister agendas."
~ Paul Clifton [Pink Paper]
AID$ Inc. UK has long colluded with Big Pharma, pushing its drugs as far back as 1992 when AIDS was a largely untreatable disease. Back then, THT's newly-appointed Chief Executive Nick Partridge - already embroiled in accusations of defrauding the charity's pension fund scheme and making front page headlines in The Pink Paper and the mainstream press - was branded an "AZT pimp" for engaging in an underhand deal with Glaxo Wellcome whereby THT was financially-renumerated for recommending high dosages of the chemotherapy drug - developed in the 1960s but not approved due to its high toxicity - to unwitting UK AIDS patients, despite the fact that AZT hastened death for many; a revelation described at the time as "part and parcel of a program of genocide that is being conducted against gay men", and amid claims that AZT's toxic properties were directly responsible for causing many of the symptoms also associated with full-blown AIDS.
"GAG (Gays Against Genocide) were protesting because THT was producing a leaflet encouraging the use of AZT which was directly funded by Glaxo Wellcome, and we felt there was a real conflict of interest... THT was supposed to be supporting people with AIDS, but they were taking money to plug a drug which was toxic... It was killing people."
~ John Stevens [Positive Nation]
"The oft repeated claim that AZT 'extends life' is based on research that fully deserves to be called fraudulent."
~ John Lauritsen [Poison By Prescription: The AZT Story]
At its height, AZT - "the most toxic drug ever licensed for human consumption in the free world" - cost
$8,000-$12,000 per patient each year, generating over $1 billion annually for Glaxo Wellcome. A bottle of AZT that cost around $5 to make could be sold for over $500 by prescription, with most of the mark-up being subsidised by the taxpayer.
In keeping with New Labour's sordid tradition of rewarding failure, such scandals didn't prevent Partridge receiving an OBE in 1999 and an MBE in 2009 for "services to AIDS" and maintaining his lucrative Chief Executive role, nor did they put a stop to THT's GlaxoSmithKline funding, which continues to this day.
Why should gay men be any more trusting of GlaxoSmithKline's motives today when in America, among myriad dubious practises, the pharmaceutical giant stands accused of failing to reveal studies showing possible links between its anti-depressant drugs and an increased rate of suicides, and of being involved in anti-HIV drug trials carried out on children in care in the 1990s, to name a few?
In October 2010, GlaxoSmithKline was fined $750 million for knowingly manufacturing adulterated drugs at a plant in Puerto Rico, while in November 2011 it paid off the US government $3 billion to end investigations into the deceitful and underhand ways GSK sold and developed drugs like Avandia, intended to treat diabetes but which has been linked to an increase in heart attacks. Effectively admitting duplicity in its willful and criminal misrepresentation of its drugs' potentially lethal side effects, chief executive Andrew Witty said the deal was a "significant step toward resolving difficult, long-standing matters which do not reflect the company that we are today," a contention many others would disagree with.
"As a major force in HIV care, GlaxoSmithKline works closely with charitable organisations and healthcare professionals to help improve the outlook for communities in the UK and abroad. This year, as in previous years, GSK has committed further funds and resources towards this work."
~ GSK advert [UK Positive Nation magazine, 2007]
GMFA, meanwhile, shamelessly has its snout in the trough of the largest of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceuticals, Pfizer International, another manufacturer of AIDS drugs whose concern is not so much for the health and and wellbeing of gay men as for its stock price and the interests of its shareholders who demand an ever expanding market for its lucrative antiretrovirals and combination therapies.
In the biggest fraud case in US history, in September 2009 Pfizer settled civil and criminal charges with the US Federal Government for illegally marketing four drugs, and was fined $2.3 billion. Pfizer's way of doing business included persuading doctors to prescribe their drugs by entertaining them in strip clubs; convincing them that the blues most teenagers feel when they don't make the football team was in fact a sign of treatable depression; and paying (i.e. bribing) them to endorse its drugs. One doctor alone received $150,000 in a calendar year.
In May 2007, concerns regarding the intimacy and collusion between charities and Big Pharma were raised by the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the body that advises the NHS on which drugs to use. It warned charities to be wary of pharmaceutical company donations and urged them to question the cost of drugs more. "Patient organisations need to think very carefully about why pharmaceutical companies are giving them money," said the institute's Chairman Sir Michael Rawlins, "and they have to make sure they are not beholden to a pharmaceutical company. I have yet to hear a patient organisation criticise a price of the drug. When they do that, they'll come into their own."