MK and the Aids 'muti' scheme

The Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) is involved in a scheme to market a controversial Aids treatment that is being sold through a multi-level marketing, or pyramid selling, scheme.

The product, dubbed Hypo-Plus, is being marketed by a Pretoria company called Afriq Medical Distributors, which says it has exclusive international distribution rights.

Hardie Steyn, an Afriq director, told the Mail & Guardian the MKMVA and its chairperson, Deacon Mathe, were involved in the project and that the company was “busy negotiating with the government” about development of the product. He said drug trials involving government hospitals were going on and that members of the Cabinet or their families were using Hypo-Plus.

He declined to give further details.

Steyn was reportedly born in Zambia and forged ties with exiled African National Congress members in Lusaka.

Mathe is out of the country and could not be contacted, but a colleague confirmed his involvement with Afriq Medical.

The M&G has established that the product is also being sold by a company called Personal Growth Networks (PGN), which specialises in so-called “network marketing” of products directed at the urban black community.

Potential buyers of Hypo-Plus are encouraged to become agents, who earn commission by signing up others to buy and sell the product.

PGN also markets a water-heating device to households that have recently acquired access to electricity.

Afriq’s website says Hypo-Plus is being sold as a food supplement, though clear medical claims are made for the product, which would bring it inside the ambit of regulation by the Medicines Control Council.

“Hypo-Plus Naturals isolates the HI virus and neutralises its reproduction, thus effectively reducing viral load to <50 copies/ml," the site claims. "While sustaining this undetectable viral count for long periods of time, Hypo-Plus Naturals propagates immune system reconstruction, development and growth. This can be seen by the increased CD4 counts of all patients participating in studies to date."

The site also claims Hypo-Plus can prevent resistance to anti-retroviral drugs from developing “by boosting the immune system and minimising the reproduction of infected cells, which keeps viral mutations in check”.

The doctor who conducted the studies was this week keen to distance himself from Hypo-Plus. Edzard Biermann said he had conducted limited tests with the product more than two years ago when he was at the Medical University of South Africa. His tests involved only about eight patients.

He said Hypo-Plus was invented by Des Pretorius, a Western Transvaal farmer and businessman. It contained extracts of the African potato and the mopani worm.

Biermann objected to his name being used to endorse the product and said he had instructed his attorney to take action to have his name removed from the Hypo-Plus website. “I am not convinced it [Hypo-Plus] actually works. The CD4 counts do go up, but after a month or two they go down again.”

Pretorius, who says the recipe for Hypo-Plus came to him in a vision from God, told the M&G he was working with a Dr Smangaliso Hlengwa, who had launched the product at a Shaka Day celebration at Hlabisa in KwaZulu-Natal.

Prescious Matsoso, chairperson of the Medicines Control Council, told the M&G the MCC had received documentation from Hypo-Plus in response to a notice for the registration of so-called “complementary medicines”.

“We have to have a look at it. We have referred it to two of our experts. We are going to look at whether there is clinical data to justify the claims as we cannot allow unsubstantiated claims of medical benefit.”

Mark Colvin, an epidemiologist with the Medical Research Council, said judging from the information provided on the Afriq Medical website there was no proper data to support the claims.

“We have just one pilot study with five patients, some of whom were also receiving anti-retrovirals; it’s just anecdotal evidence. It’s just garbage: there is no clinical data.”

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