BMA under fire over Aids film

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The Independent Online
LEADING Aids charities have criticised the British Medical Association for endorsing a controversial television programme on the drug AZT in its annual film and video competition. After the broadcast, hundreds of patients were reported to have stopped taking the drug.

The programme, 'AZT: Cause for Concern', shown in Channel 4's Dispatches series, won a BMA award despite criticism from doctors before and after its transmission in February 1992 that it was 'unbalanced'. It suggested the symptoms of Aids could be generated by the drug in healthy people.

The programme was made by Meditel, a small documentary company which has produced a series of programmes giving a platform to scientists with unorthodox views on Aids. Critics have attacked Meditel's tendency to present as fact the views of a minority while neglecting the strong scientific evidence offered by the other side.

Paul Barton, of the Terence Higgins Trust, said he was 'shocked that a programme as one-sided as that' should win anything. 'It is particularly worrying that it was the BMA, given that its members are daily giving advice to people taking the drug.'

Ian Poitier, of the National Aids Trust, described the programme's contents as 'tendentious and misleading'. He was surprised the award had gone to a programme which he believed had 'serious shortcomings as a factual report'.

The BMA last night sought to distance itself from the decision. A spokeswoman said that the Certificate of Educational Merit was one of many given to films on a wide range of medical topics. She could not say why the programme deserved an award or provide contact with any of the 10 doctors and lay people on the panel that made the decision.

The award came to light after a letter from Francesca O'Brien of Channel 4 appeared in the British Medical Journal. She defends the most recent Dispatches/Meditel programme on Africa which claimed that Aids statistics were distorted. She cited the award as BMA endorsement of an earlier programme which had been 'prophetic of recent relevations regarding the use of this drug'. Last month, the preliminary findings of a big clinical trial of AZT in healthy HIV positive people concluded it did not delay the onset of Aids. However the drug remains of benefit to many people with full-blown Aids.

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