Medicine And The Media

Miracle AIDS cure hits the South African press

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7078.450 (Published 08 February 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:450
  1. Pat Sidley, journalist
  1. Johannesburg

    “Aids cure: Trick or Treat?” said a poster for the Mail ' Guardian two days after the dramatic announcement of the discovery of a cheap drug that could help AIDS sufferers. The poster neatly outlined the problems surrounding “scientific breakthroughs” that are reported in the media without first undergoing scientific vetting.

    The unfolding story in the media over the next week provided sad pictures and sound bites of desperate AIDS victims seeking the new treatment, as well as angry denouncements from the medical and scientific establishment of publicity seeking and greedy quackery. It was probably the announcement that South Africa's “miracle” AIDS drug team–as a mass circulation Sunday newspaper billed them–had appointed an American publicist to promote their work which tipped guarded optimism about the discovery into cynicism. The research team had appointed Larry Heidebrech, who previously handled Olympian runner Ben Johnson.

    For the previous 10 days South African newspapers, television, and radio had had major “splashes” about the …

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