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).

Friday, May 13, 2005

UN denounces ad campaign by US vitamin distributor (Matthias Rath)

UN denounces ad campaign by US vitamin distributor
By Elizabeth Davies
13 May 2005

The United Nations has denounced a United States-based vitamin distributor it accuses of a "dangerous" campaign to hype the risks of anti-Aids medication in order to push its own nutritional supplements.

The maverick Aids "dissident", Dr Matthias Rath, came under renewed fire for placing advertisements touting his company's vitamin supplements and claiming that antiretroviral (ARV) medicines are toxic. The controversial German doctor's campaign in the international press was accused yesterday by UN agencies of misleading the public and promoting his own vitamin therapy business.

"Misrepresentations of this sort are dangerous and unhelpful," declared the World Health Organisation, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids known as UNAIDS, and the UN Children's Fund (Unicef). "In countries where it is widely available, antiretroviral therapy has turned Aids from a 'death sentence' into a chronic but manageable disease."

Yesterday's condemnations were heard particularly acutely in South Africa, where Dr Rath is soon to face a court challenge brought by the influential activist group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) on charges of lying about Aids medication. South Africa has the highest number of HIV infected people in the world - but its government, led by President Thabo Mbeki, infuriates its critics by arguing that Aids is a poverty issue, not a health crisis. Earlier this year, Dr Rath's foundation ran a campaign in South African newspapers claiming ARV drugs cause deformities in babies. "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, the spokesman for TAC.

Dr Rath is the latest in a long line of Aids dissidents who dispute the link between HIV and Aids and the use of drugs to treat the illnesses. He accuses the US, Britain, the World Bank and the UN of promoting expensive drugs on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, and claims that TAC is a front for the "drug cartel". His advertisements claim ARV drugs, which have been proven to improve the quality of life for Aids victims as well as reducing the replication of HIV in the body, are "toxic" and promote vitamins as a more effective and safer alternative.

"These ARV drugs severely damage all cells in the body ..." an advert in Tuesday's International Herald Tribune reads, "thereby not improving but rather worsening immune deficiencies and expanding the Aids epidemic ... The time has come to stop these crimes against humanity ... Progress in natural health now offers this opportunity."

Dr Rath's foundation has offices in Germany, the US and the Netherlands but its marketing strategy targets countries that are vulnerable to claims that Aids can be treated more cheaply. UN agencies are trying to increase access in these poorer countries but "dissidents" are not making their job easy. They denounced Dr Rath's advertisements and website for using quotes and information from UN agencies "out of context".

Studies have demonstrated that while good nutrition is an important component of care for HIV patients and boosts their overall health and strength, they have found it is no substitute for anti-Aids drugs. Studies on the value of micronutrient supplements have been inconclusive, the UN agencies said.