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).

Thursday, May 12, 2005

MCC orders urgent probe of Rath cures

May 12, 2005

MCC orders urgent probe of Rath cures
By Angela Quintal

The heat is on the controversial Rath Foundation. Last week, its chief was told publicly to take a hike by a senior MP, tomorrow it defends a High Court defamation suit and now the Medicines Control Council has announced it is investigating the foundation's activities in South Africa.

MCC registrar Humphrey Zokufa said the investigation by the council and the Department of Health was in response to a complaint by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

The announcement also comes a day after two Harvard researches accused Dr Matthias Rath of deliberately misinterpreting their findings to bolster his campaign against anti-retrovirals.

Zokufa would not be pinned down on a deadline for the investigation's completion, but said there was a "sense of urgency".

Neither was he in a position to discuss details for fear it might jeopardise both the investigation and proposed interventions, Zokufa said.

"Once we have established everything, we will make a public statement. We have to handle it carefully. It is in the public eye. The last thing you want to do is give out a message that you have already pre-judged the case."

But he acknowledged that the council was "just as concerned as the TAC or anybody else about Rath's claims".

The TAC's Zackie Achmat welcomed the "long overdue" decision to investigate.

"They have been aware of the Rath Foundation's activities for at least six months.

"Their delays have undermined science, the government's anti-retroviral programme and allowed Rath to unlawfully experiment on African people to sell his vitamins."

TAC spokesman Nathan Geffen said: "We want the MCC to ensure that distribution of unregistered medicine and human experimentation without MCC approval is stopped. We believe there is enough evidence for Rath to be arrested."

Achmat said the TAC wanted to work with government to ensure the success of HIV prevention and treatment, but that the ambiguous statements of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang not only undermined the need for treatment for people living with HIV/Aids, but also promoted unnecessary conflict between government, scientists and civil society.

"We demand swift action," he said.

Zokufa repeated that the government had a comprehensive plan, which included a range of services, including anti-retrovirals, counselling and monitoring.

"We have just awarded a R3,6-billion tender over three years for those drugs to go to facilities of the State. It was taxpayers' money, not donor money."

This was proof that the government was committed to the anti-retroviral rollout programme, he said.

"But we continue to say that nutritional status must also be looked at. People must get nutritional supplements, micro-nutrients and eat well. We want to minimise the side effects. The challenge for us it to make a menu of services available," Zokufa said.

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said the government's "snail-pace response in investigating unscrupulous lotion and potion salesmen" encouraged others to use South Africa as their base.

"The ID feels that unless the government takes strong action against those preying on unsuspecting HIV/Aids victims, the number of these so-called medical experts will continue to increase."

The fight against HIV/Aids would only be won with the provision of a "proper and effective prevention, treatment, nutrition and care programme".

Anti-retroviral therapy was a key component in treating the disease, De Lille said.

The Democratic Alliance's Dianne Kohler Barnard also expressed concern.

"Surely it does not take over a month to establish whether the medical experiments Rath is running in townships around Cape Town have been approved by the MCC?

"A simple perusal of MCC records, and perhaps an interview with Mr Rath - which together should take at maximum one day - should suffice. But the investigation has apparently been going on since the beginning of April, with no end in sight," she said.

There was no doubt that putting a stop to Rath's activities, and his exploitation of the poor and sick, was a matter of urgency, she said.