/ 13 June 2008

TAC hails court victory over Rath, Manto

The Cape High Court ruling that vitamin entrepreneur Matthias Rath was acting illegally was a victory for the rule of law and for science in medicine, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) said on Friday.

In a ruling handed down on Friday morning, Judge Dumasini Zondi barred Rath from claiming his product, VitaCell, was a treatment for Aids, and declared that the clinical trials he had been conducting in black townships were unlawful.

Zondi also said Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and her department had a duty to investigate Rath’s activities.

”This judgement this morning [Friday] is a victory for the rule of law and the scientific governance of medicine,” TAC spokesperson Nathan Geffen told journalists at a media briefing soon afterwards.

”Over the last decade in this country that rule of law has been contested by our minister of health and the president, and a culture of impunity has been created such that charlatans like Matthias Rath can get away with deceiving vulnerable people into taking snake oils such that those people end up progressing to Aids and dying.”

Geffen said the TAC was aware of at least 12 people who had died of Aids after going to Rath’s clinics and not seeking appropriate treatment at public health clinics.

”So although this is a great victory today, let’s not forget that there were real human lives lost as a consequence of the actions of Matthias Rath and, more importantly, by the failure of Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the president to stop this sort of quackery.”

Geffen said there were quacks and charlatans everywhere in the world.

What made South Africa different was that here they had political support of the health minister and ultimately the President, Thabo Mbeki.

It was this that allowed them to act with impunity and be so pervasive.

In his ruling, Judge Zondi declared that the clinical trials conducted in South Africa by or under the direction of Rath and his Dr Rath Foundation were ”unlawful”, and interdicted them from conducting any further trials.

He also ordered that Rath not publish advertisements touting the supposed anti-aids benefits of his VitaCell until he had submitted the product to the Medicines Control Council.

Zondi said the minister and her director general — who both opposed the TAC court application — had a duty to take ”reasonable measures” to prevent Rath from conducting trials and from advertising VitaCell.

The judge said they should investigate the trials that have taken place, and the VitaCell adverts, ”and in the light of the facts revealed by such investigation, to take further reasonable action in accordance with their duty”.

Zondi ordered Rath and the foundation to pay 90% of the TAC’s costs, and the minister and the director general to pay the rest. — Sapa