Can a Zambian herbal preparation called SF2000 cure AIDS?

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For years Zambian lawyer and politician Ludwig Sondashi has been saying that his Sondashi Formula 2000 preparation kills HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But it has not yet been proven.

UPDATE: On 27 November 2015 the Zambia Daily Mail reported that 23,000 capsules of SF 2000 had arrived in the country to be used in clinical trials of the herbal preparation. This is an important next step on the long road of proving whether SF 2000 kills the virus that causes Aids.

Scientists and pharmaceutical conglomerates spending millions of dollars in search of a cure for AIDS can stop, says Zambian lawyer Ludwig Sondashi. His Sondashi Formula 2000 (SF 2000) – a combination of four indigenous plants – is the elusive remedy.

Sondashi, leader of the Forum for Democratic Alternatives, claims to have cured at least 400 people since 2000. However, he refuses to publicly identify them, citing patient confidentiality.

Earlier this year, Sondashi promised to provide SF 2000 free of charge to all Zambians if he were elected president. But ultimately only 2,073 people voted for him.

He sells a week’s course of home-made capsules for K300 (currently about US$30), Sondashi told Africa Check.  A patient would normally be required to take the capsules for at least six months, so the total cost would be about K7,200 (about US$714) – whereas conventional antiretroviral medicine is provided for free in Zambia.

Can SF 2000 really cure AIDS? Africa Check scrutinised the evidence.

‘Important that further studies be made’

A screenshot of the SF 2000 website in September 2015.
A screenshot of the SF 2000 website in September 2015.

Sondashi invented the formula in sad circumstances: he desperately wanted to save his sick son, who later died. According to the Lusaka Times, Sondashi went from village to village collecting herbs in the hope of finding a cure.

By 2005, the Zambian National HIV, AIDS, STI & TB Council undertook a six month exploratory clinical trial of SF2000 and two other herbal formulations to find out whether these traditional medicines were effective as a treatment for HIV/AIDS.

The trial tested whether the medicine was safe for humans to use and did not cause damage to the liver and kidneys. Ten HIV positive people took SF2000 and six of them showed a reduction in their viral load after six months.

The principal investigator, Dr Patrick Chikusu, wrote to Sondashi: “From this it is important that further studies be made for a large group and longer period and I hope you will enter into discussion with the government to further the work.”

No further progress

To try and isolate anti-HIV agents in SF 2000, the formula was submitted to South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 2006.

Tests conducted by an independent laboratory found that an extract prepared from Sondashi’s herbs helped inhibit subtype C of the virus from replicating, and to a lesser degree, subtype B. But the tests did not measure whether the herbs killed the virus, a senior researcher at the CSIR, Eric Khorombi, told Africa Check.

Nine years later there has been no further progress.

Sondashi told Africa Check that the CSIR is holding up further trials by insisting on 70% of the profits. But a manager at the CSIR’s Natural Products and Agroprocessing unit, Tshidi Moroka, told Africa Check this is incorrect.

“[T]he consortium, which comprises of South African and Zambian institutions, agreed on 70% for Zambia and 30% for South Africa. The Zambian government provided money for the clinical studies to take place and the Zambian institutions are the ones who will be conducting those studies.”

In June last year, Zambian Health Minister Joseph Kasonde said the government had failed in its attempts to have conventional tablets and capsules made so that the dosage of the drug could be regulated for further clinical research.

‘Sondashi is to be considered a traditional healer’

After a treatment has been proved safe for humans, as was the case with SF 2000, it has to successfully pass three more phases before being licensed as a medicine.

Because SF 2000 only passed the first phase, there is no scientific basis to suggest that it cures AIDS, Dr Harold Witola, former head of the Zambian National Aids Council (NAC) and Professor Nkandu Luo, an AIDS specialist, told Africa Check.

Witola said there might be a molecule present in SF 2000 that could possibly be teased out for further investigation. As this has not been done, Sondashi is to be considered a traditional healer and SF 2000 a herbal preparation, not a medicine.

Luo, a former health minister and currently Zambia’s minister of gender and child development, said SF 2000 might make people feel healthier, as many other food supplements do.

“Trials and results of this nature are scrutinised and recorded in medical journals and peer reviewed before [they] are approved as drugs. Can Sondashi show us that this happened with SF 2000?” she asked.

Conclusion: SF 2000, in its present form, is not a cure for AIDS

While there was excitement about the efficacy of the SF2000 after an initial safety study, no further tests have been carried out on the herbal formulation.

Health professionals agree that SF 2000 is not toxic, and should be viewed as a herbal supplement, like others on the market. But in its present form SF 2000 is not a cure for AIDS.

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