Monday, December 01, 2014

Globe and Mail misleads about HIV/AIDS legal basics and vaccine research

Hmm, the Globe and Mail newspaper, Canada's only paper that comes reasonably close to being a national quality outlet, decided to contribute to today's World AIDS Day by offering a list of nine things we should know about HIV.  Good idea, questionable execution.

Under point five the paper informs us in the subheading going with point five (out of nine)

'5. In Canada, it’s is illegal for HIV-positive people to have sex without disclosing their status.'

Except... it isn't actually illegal for HIV-positive people to have sex without disclosing their status. As the journalist responsible for the list notes in the paragraph right under the subheading,
'A more recent Supreme Court ruling stated that a person living with HIV does not have to disclose their status before having vaginal sex if a condom is used and the person has a low viral load.'

That's actually the case. Canadians who happen to be HIV-positive, have an undetectable viral load and use condom during sexual intercourse are not under a legal obligation to disclose their HIV-status to their sex partners.

Important lesson. Make sure to scan more than just the subheadings of the Globe and Mail.

The journalist writing up the nine point list of random 'facts' made up another 'fact' altogether:

'8. The first and only preventative HIV vaccine is being developed in Ontario, but it still has a way to go.'

Reality check:  lots of preventative vaccine candidates are being tested in clinical trials. They pretty much all flamed out to date without doing much. The Globe and Mail journalist responsible for the nine point list links this particular 'fact' to a 2013 article in a business paper alerting readers to the fact that a team at Western University succeeded in testing their vaccine candidate in a phase 1 clinical trial. Phase 1 clinical trials only test for toxicity, no more. So, the long and short of it is that nothing much is being 'developed' on the preventative vaccine front in Ontario. Here's the Globe and Mail take on this: 'Preliminary clinical trial results appear positive but there are still many hurdles to overcome, including manufacturing and regulatory approval.' That's a funny way of looking at a vaccine candidate that has - according to the report the Globe and Mail article uses as reference - barely emanated from phase 1. If you think that manufacturing and regulatory approval are the relevant hurdles to take when it hasn't been established that the agent actually works as a preventative agent, you might want to reconsider your investment strategies as far as pharmaceutical companies are concerned.

This hyping of clinical research in the absence of firm evidence seems to become standard journalistic operating procedure in this country, ever since experimental agents were randomly promoted to Ebola vaccines by eager journalists across the country.

Check out the Globe and Mail piece, some of the other 'facts' seems suspicious, too, but I don't have the time to fact-check this particular list of 'facts' in detail.

In Saskatchewan, where the prevalence rate is three times the national average, a person is infected even more frequently.. A person is infected with HIV in Canada every three hours.

In Saskatchewan, where the prevalence rate is three times the national average, a person is infected even more frequently.

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