At present, there is no scientifically proved cure for HIV /AIDS. Globally, the number of infected HIV /AIDS patients is increasing at an alarming rate; with a current estimate of 33.2 million people who are living with HIV 1. Hence, there is a dire need to search for a safe, effective and economical treatment for HIV /AIDS.
In a retrospective study in 55 patients, Ayurvedic treatment has proved to be very promising in the management of HIV/AIDS. Fifty-Five adult patients were given Ayurvedic treatment for HIV/AIDS, during the period from April 1999 to November 2004.Each patient had tested positive for HIV/AIDS on at least 2 different occasions. No patient was taking anti-retroviral drugs at the time of commencing Ayurvedic treatment. All patients were started on treatment after written, informed consent.
The Ayurvedic Herbal Combination ( AHC ) comprises of eleven different herbs in different dosage strengths, based upon their respective potencies, reported anti-viral and immunomodulatory properties, and their traditional usage according to Ayurvedic principles of medicine 2 -4 .The constituents of AHC with their respective dosages are as follows:-Terminalia arjuna: 250 mg. ;Zinziber officinale: 250 mg. ;Phyllanthus niruri :1 gm ;Glycyrrhiza glabra:1gm. ;Withania somnifera:1gm. ;Eclipta alba: 250mg. ;Centella asiatica: 250mg. ;Boerhavia diffusa: 250mg. ;Emblica officinalis: 250mg. ;Tinospora cordifolia: 250mg. ;Rubia cordifolia: 250mg. This AHC was dispensed in a combined dose of 5 gms. t.i.d., to be taken with water after meals. Aqueous herbal extracts of all the medicines were used, in tablet form.
All patients were advised to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Therapeutic counseling sessions were conducted regularly to help the patients achieve mind relaxation, to modify their risk behavior , and to increase adherence and compliance to therapy.
All patients were followed up at monthly intervals. Detailed clinical examination was done at each visit and significant findings were recorded. In addition, in affording and willing patients, investigations like CBC, Hb, Liver and Renal functions, X-Ray of chest, Western Blot, CD4 count and Viral Load were done wherever possible. Other investigations were done, if required, for Opportunistic Infections (O.I.).All O.I. were promptly and aggressively treated with modern medicines. A close watch was kept for adverse reactions of the drugs.
Therapeutic outcome was assessed by overall clinical examination, change in Karnofsky score (assessment for overall well-being of patients), change in weight, occurrence and response to O.I., and change in CD4 and Viral Load values. Maximum number of patients was in the age ranging from 20 – 39 years (80 %). Of the total number of 55 patients, 39 were male (71 % ) and 16 were female (29 %), with the male: female ratio being 2.4: 1. There were 7 couples who took treatment together.
Of the 55 patients, 5 patients died, 42 patients took treatment for varying periods and then stopped treatment, while 8 patients continued treatment till the end of the study period. The 5 patients who died were critically ill at the time of presentation, and died mostly within the first two months of starting Ayurvedic treatment. The cause of death varied ; 1 patient died from cirrhosis of the liver, 3 died of extensive Pulmonary Tuberculosis (multi-drug resistant) and 1 died of a combination of Pulmonary Tuberculosis and demyelination disease of the brain.
In the 50 patients who were alive till the time of their last follow-up , there was an average weight-gain of 2.3 kgs.(range = – 4 to + 7.5 kgs), usually within the first 3 months. In those patients who took continuous treatment for more than 3 months, the Karnofsky score increased from an average of 75.9 at the commencement of treatment to 87.4 at the last follow-up. Almost all the patients had 1-3 O.I. at the time of presentation. Other than Tuberculosis, all the O.I. cleared up rapidly within the first 2 months of treatment.
Long-term administration of Ayurvedic medicines (upto 30 months) did not seem to have any major adverse effects. In fact, in a few patients, the tests for liver and renal function appeared to normalize further, with treatment. Haemoglobin readings gradually improved in those patients taking regular, prolonged treatment.The most striking effect of the Ayurvedic medicines was on the Viral Load and CD4 counts. Because of financial constraints, only 15 patients (27 % ) agreed to do either the Viral Load or the CD4 count, or both. In most patients, there was a definite and steady decrease in the Viral Load, and an increase in the CD4 cell counts.
Antiretroviral medicines are the mainstay in the modern treatment of HIV/AIDS. However, a plethora of side-effects, development of resistance to drugs and escalating treatment costs are serious concerns. In the absence of a definite cure for HIV/AIDS, Ayurvedic medicines may provide a useful alternative for long-term management of patients, since these medicines are economical and devoid of serious side-effects. However, scientific research is necessary to determine efficacy of these medicines. This retrospective study is one such effort to assess long-term therapeutic effects of an Ayurvedic Herbal Combination in the management of HIV /AIDS.
In this study, 4 patients died within the first 2 months of commencing treatment. Onset of therapeutic effect is slow with Ayurvedic medicines, and these patients probably could not benefit from Ayurvedic treatment. This emphasizes the need to start treatment as early as possible in immuno-compromised patients. The causes of death indicate that Tuberculosis and CNS involvement are major killers in HIV patients. Multi-drug resistance to Tuberculosis is also a major concern.
16 patients ( 29% ) did not come back after just one ( 11% ) or two ( 18% ) visits. The reasons cited were, a complete inability to pay for treatment, or a search f