Black Medical Community Boosts AIDS Research
Fields, Cheryl D., Black Issues in Higher Education
In 1991, when Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, and Dr.
Barbara Justice, learned that an immunologist in
Kenya was achieving near-miraculous results
treating HIV/AIDs patients with a substance called
"kemron," the two African-American physicians
had to see for themselves.
After seeing the work of Dr. Davey Koech,
director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute
and a Harvard graduate, Muhammad (of the
Abundant Life Clinic in Washington, D.C.) and
Justice (of Harlem Hospital) returned to the United
States eager to spread the news and begin using the
substance on their patients. Neither of them
anticipated the arduous battle that was ahead.
"The Kenyans had developed something quite
good in the treatment of AIDS," says Muhammad.
"But we realized that people were not convinced
by stories of what had occurred in an African
country. The [Kenyan's] excellent research had
been largely ignored in the West."
Muhammad and Justice began treating their
own patients, believing that if the test results were
published in the United States, they couldn't be
ignored. By 1992, the doctors had treated fifty
patients, 82 percent of whom had showed
improvement. That summer, they made a
presentation at the American Medical Association
meeting. Gradually, things began to change.
This past spring, after a
five-year struggle, clinical
trials with low-dose alpha
interferon (LDOAI) therapy
finally began in this country.
And three historically Black
medical institutions (HBMIs)
Medical Center, Meharry
Medical College, and
King/Drew Medical Center
--are among the sixteen
"This is the first time
that a major medical
breakthrough in Africa was
brought to these shores,"
The trials are being
funded by the National
Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases (NIAID),
a division of the National
Institutes of Health. The
multi-center study will
evaluate the effectiveness of LDOAI therapy in
reducing the symptoms of AIDS. Dr. Jones Jumi,
of the Mercy Specialty Center in Detroit,
Michigan, is the study chair. Dr. Wayne Greaves,
of Howard, is the project's co-chair. The study will
include 560 subjects who already have the HIV
A Natural Substance
Unlike AZT and other synthetic drugs that
have been used to treat the symptoms of HIV/
AIDS, alpha interferon is a natural substance
produced by the human immune system to combat
infections. The nationwide study compares
three preparations of LDOAI--Alferon
LDO, Veldona, and Ferrimune. The
form being used in Muhammad's clinic is
administered orally or nasally.
"The receptors for [alpha interferon] are
in the back of the throat," Muhammad
explains. "We have a liquid alpha interferon
that gets filled into the nose, then it drips
down into the throat.... You try to get as
much of it in the back of the throat as
Because alpha interferon is a natural
substance which originated in Africa, it has
gained acceptance among the
African-American participants in the study,
according to Dr. Mary Ann South, of
Meharry Medical College.
"For our population of African
Americans, it will be important to know
whether this drug works," says South.
Though not all of the study participants are
Black, the three historically Black medical
institutions were selected to participate in the
study, in part, to ensure that the sample of
the study population included people of