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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Egyptian Military Claims to Cure H.I.V. and Hepatitis C

Video posted to YouTube showed Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdul Atti announcing the Egyptian military’s alleged discovery of a cure for hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS. Scientists have reacted skeptically.

As my colleagues Kareem Fahim and Mayy El Sheikh reported, the Egyptian military made the unlikely announcement last week that after 22 years of secret research it had found a cure to not just one global public health scourge, but two: hepatitis C and H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

The claim was made by an army doctor, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdul Atti, at a news conference attended by the country’s military-appointed interim president, Adly Mansour, as well as the defense minister, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a popular figure who led the country’s July 2013 removal of the Islamist president. General Sisi is widely seen as a leading presidential contender.

General Abdul Atti said that he discovered the cures for HIV and hepatitis C after 22 years of research he conducted with the assistance of Egyptian military intelligence and that his methods were able to cure 100 percent of AIDS cases and more than 95 percent of hepatitis C cases.

“You will never find another patient suffering from the Hepatitis C virus after today, God willing,” said General Abdul Atti, according to subtitled video of the announcement that was uploaded on Tuesday to a YouTube account focused on Egyptian politics and current events. It has been viewed more than 30,000 times in two days.

General Abdul Atti’s claims to have found a cure coincided with a separate announcement that the military helped develop a device that can detect hepatitis C infection from across a room, without a blood test. According to video posted to YouTube of a segment about the device was shown on Egyptian state television, the machine resembled a staple gun with a radio antenna attached.

A segment on Egyptian state television about the military’s hand-held hepatitis C detector.

The announcement came in the midst of a monthslong crackdown on government critics, which began with followers of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement but soon spread to non-Islamists critical of the military and security forces.

Last month, prosecutors that announced they were investigating a popular television puppet for its ties to terrorism, and more than one animal in recent years has been accused of links to Israeli intelligence.

A cure for hepatitis C would be a cause for celebration in Egypt, which reportedly has the world’s highest prevalence of the virus. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 20 percent of Egyptian blood donors test positive for hepatitis C. The country’s H.I.V. infection rate is less than 1 percent, according to the Joint United Nations Program on H.I.V. and AIDS.

The global scientific community has unsuccessfully sought a cure for both diseases for decades, and independent experts were deeply skeptical that the Egyptian military â€" working in secret, and without having published any findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal â€" could have simultaneously unlocked the cure to two deadly epidemics.

That skepticism was shared by Essam Heggy, a science adviser to President Mansour, who called the military’s claims “unrealistic,” “lacking clear scientific basis” and “an insult to Egypt” in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper, al-Watan, that was translated into English by the website Mada Masr. Mr. Heggy also sought to distance President Mansour and General Sisi, the military chief, from the announcement, saying: “They were both surprised with what was said without them being consulted. Their presence at the conference doesn’t mean their approval of it.”