The Department of Health has shown a decided lack of enthusiasm for investigating the activities of vitamin entrepreneur Matthias Rath, the Cape High Court was told on Wednesday.
”The government has failed completely in its constitutional and statutory duties to protect the health of the public,” said Geoff Budlender, advocate for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
He was presenting argument in a bid by the TAC and the South African Medical Association for an order forcing the government to halt Rath’s distribution of multivitamins in black townships; to silence his claims that they can reverse the course of Aids; and stop unauthorised clinical trials.
Rath urges people taking his products not to use antiretroviral drugs, which he claims are toxic.
Budlender said the vitamins fell under the definition of medicines, and should be registered.
The department had failed completely in its duty to protect the health of the public by investigating the distribution of the product and the trials.
Though TAC had sent the department numerous letters, all it did was send an investigator to speak to a Rath employee and a former employee, and to write a letter to the Rath Foundation.
Budlender said health Director General Thami Mseleku had asserted that the department could act only if there was ”convincing proof” from independent sources that the law was being broken.
”They stood back and said, it hasn’t been proved: because it hasn’t been proved, we don’t have to investigate,” Budlender said.
This was completely the wrong approach. If the police acted that way, no one would ever be convicted of an offence.
The purpose of an investigation — in which the department had search-and seizure-powers — was in fact to obtain proof.
Budlender also told Judge Dumisani Zondi that Rath was patently dishonest, lying whenever it suited him.
”We say that Dr Rath is on his own showing not an honest person,” he said.
In a series of publications and statements, Rath and the foundation, his ”alter ego”, had referred repeatedly to their ”clinical study” on recipients of the vitamins.
The goal of the study was reportedly to show that vitamins and other micro-nutrients alone reversed the course of Aids.
Budlender said now that the legality of these activities was at issue, Rath had sought in his answering affidavit to pass the vitamin distribution off as an activity of the South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco), and to deny that he or the foundation ever conducted clinical trials.
”This is patently false,” Budlender said.
He said that in the affidavit Rath and the foundation also lied about the outcome of a TAC application in 2005 for a defamation interdict against Rath.
Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, appearing for Rath and the foundation, told Judge Zondi that his clients had never claimed their products were medicines.
”We are saying they are nutritional supplements. We have never made the claim that they are anything other than nutritional supplements,” he said.
As for the issue of clinical trials, all Rath was doing was donating vitamins to Sanco.
The participants in the so-called trials were informed that what they were getting vitamins, not medicines, and took part of their own free will.
The TAC application was aimed at stifling debate on alternative approaches to a disease that conventional medicine could not cure, the court was told.
The hearing continues on Thursday. — Sapa