THAMI MSELEKU: From our point of view Dr Rath is actually providing vitamins, which are immune boosters just like many vitamins that are there.

KHOPOTSO: True, the micro-nutrient industry is proliferated with hundreds of products. But none of the marketers actually make bold and aggressive statements that their products are a ‘€œnatural way to fight off’€ HIV. If such claims are made about a substance, be it vitamin or anything else then, valid scientific proof must be provided to substantiate the claims. Lynne Moeng is the Director of the Department of Health’€™s Nutrition unit.

LYNNE MOENG: Claims should be scientifically proven. And if it has health claims then, that’€™s a medicine. It immediately makes it a medicine and it should be registered and there should be studies which prove that this has worked for this, that and that.

KHOPOTSO: Rath’€™s pills do not actually make the claim that they can ‘€œfight off’€ HIV. He makes the claim on his website in which he also states that the Dr Rath Health Foundation is conducting clinical trials of its vitamin supplements in the townships of Cape Town. He also makes the claims in the maiden issue of his monthly newspaper which started distributing this month in the townships of Cape Town. However, the container of his Vita Cell tablets, which resemble an antiretroviral medicine known as Efavirenz in shape and colour, has at the top of its lid a prominent sticker that reads ‘€œHealth Now’€.

LYNNE MOENG: It’€™s a claim that it provides health now, which is actually misleading to a lot of people’€¦ It can be interpreted in many ways. It’€™s a very smart way of putting it. It’€™s a very subtle claim.

KHOPOTSO: Director-General of Health Thami Mseleku, says that pills supplied by Dr Rath are complementary medicines and as such, there was no need for him to register the product.

THAMI MSELEKU: If Dr Rath came into South Africa and had this particular product there would have to be a determination as to whether this product is supposed to be a complementary product, or is supposed to be a medicinal product which then, would actually have to be registered in terms of the Medicines Regulatory Act, whereas a complementary product does not have to go through all those processes.

KHOPOTSO: But Moeng differs.

LYNNE MOENG: There is regulation that before you even put a high dose vitamin on the market it should be registered with the MCC’€¦ There are laws but people are not abiding.

KHOPOTSO: Relatives of loved ones who became severely ill and subsequently died after being on Rath’€™s tablets have reported that the deceased were told to take up to 20 units a day. At the end of the recent World Health Organisation Consultation meeting on Nutrition and HIV/AIDS in Africa, participating countries, including South Africa, adopted a policy statement that advised against the use of high dose vitamin supplements.

LYNNE MOENG: The final decision or recommendation was that at this point no one should use excessive levels of vitamins. What we are recommending with the little evidence we have on micro-nutrients is that it’€™s safer to stick to single RDAs instead of giving five times the doses. That’€™s what we are recommending to everybody irrespective of your HIV status. There are a lot of studies which are showing some problems if you take excessive levels. So, truly speaking, in order to be safe we are recommending that people stick to single doses. It should indicate in your container the RDA levels.

KHOPOTSO: Rath’€™s supplements do not have information as to what percentage of RDA or Recommended Daily Allowance each pill contains. Meanwhile, Director-General of Health Thami Mseleku, says the Department’€™s law enforcement agency has conducted an investigation into Dr Rath’€™s activities and a preliminary report put before him says there was no finding of irregularities against Rath.

THAMI MSELEKU: There have been allegations that Dr Rath was actually using medicine that was not registered in South Africa. And the law enforcement agency says, in accordance with what was pronounced by the Department of Health before about the complementarity of Dr Rath’€™s vitamins, there hasn’€™t been anything that was done wrong with regard to that.

KHOPOTSO: With that finding already a matter of fact, it remains to be seen what the Medicines Control Council’€™s verdict on Rath will be after it finishes its own investigation.      

E-mail Khopotso Bodibe

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