A pseudo-medical device which Egypt's military had previously claimed, in the face of widespread ridicule, would cure both Aids and hepatitis C, has been delayed for "further tests" after it was slated to be made available to patients yesterday.
Serious concerns remain about the military's continued backing for a second device, meant to detect the diseases and apparently based around the same novelty golfball detector which was used as the basis for a fraudulent bomb detector.
The devices have raised concerns about Egypt's armed forces, widely regarded as the country's most competent and functional institution.
For medical and scientific professionals who have raised concerns about both devices, the announcement that the use of the devices would not begin immediately was greeted with relief.
"It would have been a huge disaster," said Mostafa Hussein, a doctor who has monitored the progress of the army's claims. "You would have had patients seeking this fake cure, and not real treatment. It would have toyed with the lives of so many people."
More than one in 10 Egyptians suffer from chronic hepatitis C infection, the highest rate in the world. The military claimed that more than 40,000 people had signed up for treatment using the device.
The military appears to be standing behind a second device, meant to divine the presence of the diseases in the bloodstream remotely. The detection device appears to be similar to the fake bomb detectors sold to the Iraqi government by British businessman Gary Bolton, who was jailed last August.
Dr Hussein, who has observed the handheld device in use, said "subconscious movements" on the part of the operator cause a wand to swing back and forth when a patient passes in front of it, which is wrongly interpreted to show that a virus has been detected.
Both devices were promoted by an honorary general and former herbal healer named Dr Abdel Aaty, who, as well as being an advocate of "cosmic medicine", claimed in February to have led the team which invented the devices.
"I take Aids from the patient, and feed the patient on Aids," said Dr Aaty. "I give it to him as kofta [a minced meat kebab skewer] to feed on."
The "scandal", as Essam Heggy, a scientific adviser to the Presidency called it at the time, became known as "Kofta Gate".
Dr Aaty also claimed that current President and then head of the armed forces, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had personally supervised the research. "I thank the Field Marshal, who cared for this research... His aphorisms ring in my ears until now," he said.
The military refused to submit the devices to public scientific scrutiny on the grounds that the advanced technology they contained was a national secret.
One journal, published by a body calling itself the World Academy for Science, Engineering and Technology, was subject to a sting operation by a local news website.
"Egypt Independent's editors made up an obviously incoherent research paper: a merge of plagiarized material from previously published papers on mathematics and some Wikipedia articles," an article on the website read. The paper was accepted within 24 hours.
At Saturday's press conference Dr Aaty was absent and speakers seemed to distance the project from him.
Nonetheless, they maintained that trials on a limited number of patients had so far shown that the device reduced the viral load and eliminated the disease in three patients, according to Mostafa Hussein, the doctor who attended the announcement. There was no mention, he said, of a control group or other standard scientific checks.
"They were also clear that the [detection] device works and that they want to use it for infection control in blood banks," Dr Hussein said.
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- UK Independent