/ 13 October 2005

Rath ‘successes’ admit to using ARVs

Two HIV-positive women presented to the media in June by the Dr Rath Health Foundation as examples of how its vitamins can reverse Aids have admitted that they were on anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs all along.

A third woman, a high-profile Rath foundation agent who has been promoting the vitamins in Gugulethu, died a few months after rejecting ARVs.

Meanwhile, the foundation is in the process of expanding its programme to the Eastern Cape, and has been distributing pamphlets in East London hospitals describing ARVs as “toxic”.

Controversial German vitamin seller Dr Matthias Rath has been leading an aggressive campaign against the government’s ARV treatment programme in Khayelitsha and Gugulethu with the assistance of local South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco) leaders.

Since the beginning of the year, Rath agents have been urging HIV-positive residents to use high doses of the foundation’s unregistered vitamins instead of “toxic” ARVs.

News service Health-e is aware of at least 12 deaths of people who were told the vitamins would be adequate to fight any life-threatening infections.

Participants ‘lured’ to meeting

Khayelitsha resident Busisiwe (surname withheld at her request) attended the Rath press conference at the Holiday Inn in Strand Street, Cape Town, on June 15.

She said participants were lured to the meeting with promises of drugs for HIV, groceries, money and homes.

Speaking from her one-roomed house that doubles up as a spaza shop, the slight 23-year-old said she was approached in May by a Rath agent who said it would be a “good idea” to use the vitamins.

“Later, I was collected from my house and taken to the Rath offices in town. We then walked to the Holiday Inn, where we addressed the meeting,” explained Busisiwe.

At the press conference, Rath — flanked by a group of about 15 Gugulethu and Khayelitsha residents, including Busisiwe — announced that “for the first time in history dozens of patients have gathered in Cape Town to document with their own lives, that the course of Aids can be reversed naturally”.

But, said Busisiwe: “I felt no different while taking the vitamins, so I’ve stopped taking it.”

Ntombi from Gugulethu was also part of the group presented to the media.

“At an earlier support group meeting, they told us if we took the vitamins they would provide us with anything we needed ‒ money, and for those who do not have houses, shacks would be built,” said Ntombi.

She added that Rath had told the group that “ARVs will kill us because ARVs are not good. He then told us we need to start taking his vitamins.

“I went to the [Rath] support group meeting twice, but never returned when I realised nothing was going to come from the promises.”

Ntombi claimed that another woman testifying at the press conference was also on ARVs.

“She told everyone she does not use ARVs, but she attends the same ARV clinic as I do.”

A group photograph taken at the press conference shows Marietta Ndziba, leader of the Rath support group in Gugulethu, flashing a broad smile. She was known for speaking passionately at community meetings and funerals about the healing powers of the Rath vitamins and her rejection of ARVs.

However, Ndziba died last Saturday of an undisclosed illness. According to neighbours, one of Ndziba’s close friends, another outspoken Rath supporter, had died four days earlier.

“This is three young people in our street who have died within the space of a week,” said a nurse who lives in the neighbourhood.

“I see sick people in Khayelitsha getting better, and when I go home to Gugulethu, people are dying like flies,” said the nurse, who works at the Ubuntu clinic in Khayelitsha and asked not to be identified.

The nurse added that she had been approached for help by a very ill young woman in the neighbourhood.

“Her CD4 count was 21 and I told her to go to the Aids-treatment clinic nearby, but Marietta came to hear of her and told her that they could help her,” she recalled.

The woman was buried a few weeks later while on the Rath vitamins.

“The Rath people have launched an aggressive door-to-door campaign, peddling their vitamins to the sick and vulnerable. I feel very bitter about what is happening. These deaths are all unnecessary,” said the nurse.

Ethical approval refused

Meanwhile, the University of Limpopo (Medunsa campus) has confirmed that it refused the Rath foundation ethical approval to conduct clinical trials.

The head of Medunsa’s ethics committee, Professor Wim du Plooy, said the “Rath protocol has not been approved”.

The applications were submitted by Professor Sam Mhlongo, head of family medicine at Medunsa, an outspoken Aids denialist with close ties to Rath and President Thabo Mbeki.

Professor Herman Joubert, interim dean of medicine at Medunsa, confirmed that a research protocol entitled Clinical Pilot Study in Immunocompromised Patients Including HIV-Positive Individuals with Dr Rath Cellular Programme had been submitted to the ethics committee.

However, the committee raised more than 34 concerns with the protocol, including that no proof of Medicines Control Council (MCC) approval for the “cellular programme” had been provided.

MCC registrar Dr Humphrey Zokufa refused to give an update on its investigation into the Rath foundation, which started in April. Zokufa said a final report would only be ready in six weeks’ time.

Meanwhile, African National Congress national health secretary Dr Saadiq Kariem has added his voice to a growing tide of condemnation of the foundation from health professionals, academics and universities.

Speaking in his personal capacity, Kariem said “this does make me very despondent that to think in this late stage in the battle against HIV we have opinions expressed by the Rath foundation that could not only be harmful to people but, by confusing people into not accessing antiretroviral medicine, quite frankly kill them”.

He added that he is disappointed that Sanco is assisting the foundation.

“Life is not cheap. I would advise the Rath foundation to stop spreading confusing messages among people. Multivitamins are only one aspect of a holistic, comprehensive campaign against HIV, as is healthy living and good nutritional support. Without ARVs, people will surely die,” warned Kariem.

The Rath foundation failed to respond to queries relating to its programme. — Health-e News Service