In the past few weeks, Rath Foundation pamphlets condemning ARVs as ‘toxic’ have been distributed in Frere and Cecilia Makiwane hospitals, according to a doctor working in the hospitals who asked not to be identified.
Last week, Rath Foundation agents wearing black T shirts and caps emblazoned with ‘food for health’ walked around Mdantsane with loudhailers promoting their vitamins, according to eyewitnesses.
The foundation is believed to be working with the National Association of People with AIDS (Napwa) and the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) in the Eastern Cape. Sanco Khayelitsha leader Ndzanywa Ndibongo confirmed in the press recently that the foundation was expanding to the Eastern Cape.
Over the past year, the foundation headed by controversial German Dr Matthias Rath, has been operating in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha and Gugulethu townships.
The foundation is working with a network of health workers and Sanco members to identify HIV positive people and persuade them to ditch their ARVs in favour of the Rath vitamins.
At the same time, the foundation has flooded the townships with pamphlets, posters and a newsletter claiming that ARVs are toxic and denigrating the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) as an agent of the pharmaceutical industry.
Health-e has established that at least 12 people have died while taking the vitamins, which they were told would help them to ward off infections.
We have also interviewed people who say they were promised food, groceries and money if they took the vitamins.
Rath claims to be running a ‘clinical pilot study’ in Khayelitsha, but no recognised institution has given ethical approval for such a study nor have the Rath vitamins been registered for this purpose by the Medicines Control Council (MCC).
The University of Limpopo’s medical faculty, Medunsa, recently revealed that it had refused the Rath Foundation ethical approval for its “Clinical pilot study in immuno-compromised patients including HIV positive individuals with Dr Rath Cellular Programme” after raising 34 problems with the protocol.
The SACP and Cosatu in Khayelitsha have been working with the TAC to expose the Rath Foundation, but the ANC has refused to take a public stand.
Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang has had at least one private meeting with Rath and declared in response to a parliamentary question by the Democratic Alliance: ‘I will only distance myself from Dr Rath if it can be demonstrated that the vitamin supplements that he is prescribing are poisonous for people infected with HIV.’
Eastern Cape provincial government spokesperson Sizwe Khupelo said he had ‘heard from the newspapers’ that the Rath Foundation was operating in the Eastern Cape but had received no formal report about the pamphlet distribution in hospitals.
‘There are a quite number of people in the province who say that their products can help people with HIV,’ said Khupelo. ‘We always invite such people to come and make a presentation. This does not mean that we support them, but we have an open door policy.’
Khupelo said that while the province regarded the TAC as ‘partners not enemies, we don’t want to be dragged into their dispute with the Rath Foundation’.
When asked to comment on how Rath’s pamphlets describing ARVs as toxic could be distributed in government facilities when it undermined government’s ARV treatment programme, Khupelo said he ‘was not aware of such pamphlets’.
‘Our treatment programme is clear, we are rolling it out and meeting our targets,’ said Khupelo.
TAC Eastern Cape coordinator Philip Mokoena said that his organisation would be meeting health department officials next week (24 October) and ‘the Rath Foundation is one of the important things that we need to discuss’.
TAC is also planning meetings with trade unions, nurses and doctors organisations to discuss the matter.
The activities of the Rath Foundation have been condemned by 200 Western Cape healthworkers in a petition to their Health MEC, Pierre Uys.
Voicing ‘outrage at the unhindered activities of the Dr Rath Health Foundation’, the healthworkers said ‘our patients are being inundated with propaganda encouraging them to stop life-saving medicine’.
‘We are deeply concerned that materials distributed by the Dr Rath Health Foundation claim to have the support of our government. For patients with advanced HIV disease, stopping antiretroviral medicine, even for a few weeks, can be the difference between life and death.’
Wits University, the SA Medical Association, UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation and Harvard University have also condemned Rath’s activities.
An investigation into the foundation launched by the MCC in April has yet to reach a verdict on its activities. — Health-e News Service.