VERA FILES FACT CHECK: No, doctors HAVE NOT announced cure for HIV, AIDS

An old article bearing a false headline that claims doctors have “announced” a cure for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has resurfaced on the Web.

Netizens and several Facebook (FB) pages shared this week the misleading four-year-old report published in August 2015 by website thesoutherndaily.co.za, which describes itself as "an internet portal for casual news, friendly satire, and some dose of cool updates."

Its misleading story, published under the "Health & Lifestyle" section, bore the headline, “HIV FUNCTIONAL CURE: STEM CELL TREATMENT BREAKTHROUGH AFTER BERLIN & BARCELONA PATIENTS CURED.”

However, when shared on FB, its headline transforms into different clickbait versions:

  • “NO MORE CONDOMS! - Doctors Announce HIV / AIDS Cure !! - (2 people healed already)”
  • "NO MORE CONDOMS!! - Spain Doctors Find Cure For HIV / AIDS - (2 Patients Already Healed).”
  • “HIV Breakthrough! Spain Finds Functional Cure For HIV Virus (Confirmed) | The Southern Daily -...”

These headlines are false.

Thesoutherndaily.co.za’s story does not talk about the medical community announcing a cure for HIV and AIDS, nor has there been a “confirmed” functional HIV cure in Spain. Condoms are also not at all mentioned in the report.

The site’s misleading story is a hodgepodge of reports in 2015 about clinical trials that sought to eradicate HIV and HIV-related illnesses. It discussed:

  • a state-funded grant in California in July 2015 for a clinical trial to treat HIV-positive patients with lymphoma, a cancer that begins in the immune system,
  • Timothy Brown, the so-called “Berlin patient,” who is the only-known living person “functionally cured” of HIV -- meaning, he was cleared of “readily detectable HIV” -- after a bone marrow stem cell transplant in 2008,
  • a “Barcelona patient” in Spain -- taking after the Berlin patient -- who received a blood transplant using the umbilical cord of a donor who had HIV-resistant genes in 2009; after the procedure, he “didn’t have detectable levels of HIV” but died about three years later from lymphoma, and
  • paraphrased portions of a Nov. 6, 2014 report by Spanish newspaper El Mundo about the Berlin and Barcelona patients, and the clinical trial in 2015 on the “therapeutic use of umbilical cord blood in HIV positive patients with hematologic cancer.”

A 2014 article in medical journal The Lancet by the Spanish doctors that treated the Barcelona patient did not say their trial resulted in a “functional cure.” They said the death of the patient “regretfully prevented long-term monitoring” of his HIV reservoir, and that there were insufficient donors to continue with the treatment as a therapeutic strategy.

The body of thesoutherndaily.co.za’s story even included a quote from the El Mundo report that explicitly said umbilical cord treatments mentioned is not a “cure” or a “therapeutic route” for HIV, but is intended to cure “a serious hematological disease in HIV-positive people.”

Additionally, a look at the history of thesoutherndaily.co.za’s misleading report through web archiving tool Wayback Machine shows that its headline has been changed five times since its publication 2015.

  • December 2015: “HIV Breakthrough! Spain Finds Functional Cure For HIV Virus (Confirmed).”
  • January 2016: “HIV Breakthrough: Spain Finds Functional Cure For HIV (Confirmed): Additional Trials Underway After Successful Cure Of One Patient
  • May 2016: “HIV Breakthrough: Functional Cure Announced - More Tests Underway”
  • June 2016: “Functional Cure For HIV: Additional Trials Underway After Successful Cure Of Patient”
  • July 2016: “HIV Functional Cure: STEM Cell Treatment Breakthrough After Berlin & Barcelona Patients Cured”

The false headlines have drawn mixed reactions from netizens online. Some readers commented on Facebook posts that shared thesoutherndaily.co.za’s story saying “Ang dami na ngayon matuwa yan hehe (Many will be glad about this)” and “What? That is good.” Meanwhile, other netizens said, “Condoms aren't just for the virus, a very ignorant post” and “Don’t trust this.”

Another reader said: “Please help people in the Philippine to be cured of HIV specially our government .in my country please.”

Thesoutherndaily.co.za’s misleading report resurfaced around the same time United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS country director Louie Ocampo said the Philippines is the country with the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific, bucking the global trend of a steady decline in HIV cases.

The misleading story, which could have reached over 5.7 million people, was widely shared in African social media pages. Recently, Facebook detected the story making the rounds in the Philippines as well. Traffic to the story from social media pages in the country largely came from FB groups Federal for Better Philippines and SARA DUTERTE SOLID SUPPORTERS.

FOR FURTHER READING

​VERA FILES FACT CHECK: US gov’t DID NOT admit marijuana is cancer cure

This story is false. Don't believe it.

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB post on papaya leaves as homemade ‘cure’ for dengue needs context

A netizen’s month-old online post endorsing papaya leaf juice paints an incomplete picture of its…

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Website misleads by using HIV-positive woman's photo

A story from pinoyhealthandremedies.com that published the photo of a woman it claimed died after…

About Vera Files

Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

Contact Us

Email us at newsroom@verafiles.org

MEMBER