Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, May 14, 2005

AIDS Activists Go After Vitamin Salesman (Matthias Rath)

AIDS Activists Go After Vitamin Salesman
By CLARE NULLIS, Associated Press Writer
Sat May 14, 3:12 AM

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - A South African court on Friday opened a hearing against a self-styled nutrition guru who claims that anti-retroviral medicines are poisonous and that his own "natural" multivitamin therapies are more effective against the AIDS virus.

An AIDS activist group, The Treatment Action Campaign, had filed a petition with the Cape High Court against Matthias Rath, a German-born doctor who has a California-based foundation and claims tiny doses of natural nutrients can cure everything from heart disease to AIDS.

"The Rath Foundation is preying on vulnerable people with life-threatening illnesses with two aims: to sell their products and to support the HIV denialists who have caused enormous damage to our country," the Action Campaign said in a statement.

It accused him of sowing fear among the poor and the sick to sell his "extortionately" priced multivitamin compounds.

The case has stirred passions in this country with the highest number of HIV infected people in the world, or about 5.3 million at the end of 2003, and where an estimated 600 to 1,000 people die of AIDS every day. The hearing had to be delayed after it began because of noise from demonstrators outside the courtroom.

Judge Siraj Desai told the packed session the court was not being called upon to decide on the efficacy or safety of anti-retrovirals versus "natural" therapies, but to determine whether to order a stop to Rath's allegations.

The clashing viewpoints highlighted the complexities of treating AIDS in many African countries which have long relied on medicinal plants and natural remedies and which lack the infrastructure taken for granted by industrialized countries.

Rath, who attended the court session denied the charges and accused the Action Campaign of trying "to publicly discredit our foundation and slander me personally."

After Friday's session, the case was adjourned until May 26.

The United Nations has joined the criticism against Rath for his full-page advertisements in international media touting his company's vitamin supplements and claiming that anti-retroviral medicines are toxic.

"These advertisements are wrong and misleading," said a statement received Thursday from the World Health Organization, the U.N. Children's Fund and UNAIDS. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health also condemned Rath last week, saying he twisted the findings of their research to advocate his position.

Scientists have found that while there are side effects to anti-retroviral drugs, such as nausea, diarrhea, rashes and abdominal pain, those are far outweighed by the benefits of treatment.

The Action Campaign intended to use an anti-defamation law to target Rath's business in South Africa. The hearing Friday asked for a temporary order for Rath to cease referring to the campaign as a front for multinational pharmaceutical companies, pending a full defamation suit which the group hoped to launch later this year.

The group is also pressing the government's regulatory authority, the Medicines Control Council, to clamp down on Rath and stop what the group alleges are illegal experiments on humans in poor townships.

The Medicines Control Council said in a statement to the South African Press Association earlier this week that it was investigating the vitamin dealer, but declined to speculate on whether it would take action and close down his operations.

"Rath is more active in South Africa than anywhere else in the world because of senior political leaders flirting with quackery and denialism," said Nathan Geffen, an Action Campaign spokesman. Geffen said health activists hoped that the increased public criticism of Rath would finally shame South African authorities into action.

Rath, who has offices in Germany, the Netherlands and Santa Clara, Calif., maintains that chronic shortage of micronutrients is to blame for a wide variety of ailments, including heart disease, strokes, cancer and AIDS. These diseases "will essentially be unknown in the future" if his theories about natural therapies and food supplements are put into practice at a global level, he insists.

"The HIV/AIDS epidemic has become one of the greatest threats to mankind ever," he says on his Web site. "This human tragedy has become a multibillion-dollar market for the pharmaceutical investment business - the drug cartel - in which the return on investment is based on the continuation of the AIDS epidemic," he maintains.

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