Dr Matthias Rath’s ‘pseudo-science’ is causing confusion and costing many lives and is flourishing because it is perceived to be endorsed by the health minister and the president, according to the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
Analysing the recent deaths of five people who were taking the Rath vitamins, the TAC said for three of these patients Rath was at a minimum responsible for contributing to their deaths.
In the other two cases Rath was at a minimum responsible for misleading them and creating false hope, the TAC said.
TAC said it was also aware of another two cases where Rath patients were taking ARVs. They are still alive.
The Dr Rath Health Foundation’s campaign, supported by the SA National Civics Organisation (SANCO), has in the past encouraged patients to desist from seeking anti-retroviral treatment in the end stages of their HIV infection, but to rather take high doses of his untested multi-vitamins.
The TAC, which has been threatening to take the health minister to court, bluntly stated that Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had responsibility for failing to stop Rath.
Rath claims that antiretrovirals are toxic and make AIDS worse. He makes similar claims for heart-disease, cancer, diabetes and other diseases.
Rath has in conjunction with his agents – which include some SANCO branches, Anthony Brink, David Rasnick, Sam Mhlongo and others – conducted an unauthorised and illegal clinical trial in Khayelitsha and other areas in the Western Cape.
This trial involves making false claims to prospective patients that vitamins reverse the course of AIDS, taking blood samples from patients, taking photographs of patients semi-naked for the purpose of before and after photographs and distributing unregistered drugs to patients.
Rath’s drugs, according to their labels, consist of vitamins, amino acids, a schedule two substance called N-acetylcysteine and other micronutrients. Based on affidavits TAC have received, these drugs are prescribed in unusually high dosages. This is in line with Rath’s stated theories and past practices.
TAC pointed out that Marietta Ndziba was used – and continues to be used- by Rath for marketing his products. In a pamphlet distributed by Rath and his agents in September, she was quoted as saying that her CD4 count rose from 365 to 841 due to Rath’s vitamins. She implied that these vitamins treated boils on her arm, her grey skin, diarrhoea and vomiting. She said “I just thank God that he brings vitamins here to South Africa to help our lives.”
‘As far as we can ascertain Ndziba never took antiretrovirals. She died about two weeks ago.
‘Her family continues to be in denial about the cause of her death, with one family member reportedly claiming that she died of a stress headache. Rath’s vitamins clearly did not help Ndziba. She should have been treated by qualified doctors in the public health system, not Rath or his agents,’ the TAC said.
A video recording of Ndziba claiming the benefits of Rath’s vitamins continues to be available on the front page of Rath’s South African website to this day.
In the second case presented by the TAC, Ntombekhaya (name withheld) commenced treatment for TB in 2004 at a public health clinic. She was HIV-positive and was going to start antiretroviral treatment once her TB treatment was completed. Her CD4 count was 45 in October 2004 and she had lost weight.
In early March 2005, she made contact with Rath’s agents. From that point she stopped taking medicines from the Site B public health clinic in Khayelitsha. She was quite sick when she started taking Rath’s drugs, and she started becoming much sicker. Her health deteriorated under the care of the Rath Foundation.
It has been alleged that they put her on a drip at one stage. Her family member caring for her was advised by Rath’s agents not to call an ambulance if she got sicker, but to call them instead. She died on 27 March.
‘Rath and his agents are partly responsible for her death by taking her off the medicines she was taking at the Site B clinic at a time that she was critically ill and delaying her initiation of antiretroviral treatment,’ said the TAC.
Patient X presented at Nolungile HIV clinic on 30 September 2005. He was in such a deteriorated state due to advanced AIDS that his treating doctor investigated his clinical history.
This is the doctor’s report:
He was admitted to Jooste Hospital on 12 September 2005. His baseline CD4 count was 22 and he had a haemoglobin count of 2. He required three blood transfusions. He was diagnosed with HIV encephalopathy and disseminated tuberculosis. It turned out that Patient X had been treated by a Rath clinic for two months prior to presenting at hospital. It is during this critical period that he missed an opportunity to be treated in the public health sector. He died on 8 October 2005. He never had an opportunity to commence antiretroviral treatment because he had not recovered from his several opportunistic infections.
‘Rath is at least partly responsible for Patient X’s death by having caused his delay in seeking assistance from the public health system,’ said the TAC.
In the fourth case, Noluthando was diagnosed with HIV in 2002. She lived openly with her status. At some point in April or May 2005, Noluthando made contact with Rath’s agents.
At this time she had stomache pains, but no other symptoms of illness. For three days she took 20 of Rath’s VitaCell pills a day, far in excess of recommended daily allowances for many of the substances that the VitaCell label claims are in the pills.
In these three days her condition deteriorated dramatically. She could not walk without assistance and could not work. She stopped taking the tablets. She was admitted to Karl Bremmer Hospital and died on 2 June 2005.
‘In this case, Rath is at a minimum responsible for creating false hope by claiming that his medicines would improve Noluthando’s health. We are not sure if his tablets were responsible for Noluthando’s deterioration in health, though given the large untested doses, this cannot be ruled out.
‘It is unlikely that Rath delayed Noluthando from initiating antiretroviral treatment. Her involvement with Rath and agents appeared to be short. She was on a waiting list for antiretroviral treatment at the time she died. She is one of the many people who slipped through the cracks of a public health system under strain. It is such people who are most at risk of being taken advantage of by charlatans,’ said TAC.
In the last case presented by the TAC, Noxolo Ngalo was diagnosed with HIV in January 2005. In April, she made contact with Rath’s agents. She started taking 30 Rath tablets per day.
At some point her dosage was reduced. Rath’s spokesperson claimed on eTV that she only took Rath’s medicines for 9 days.
But this is contradicted by her mother who tells a coherent story of her being involved with a Rath clinic in Du Noon until at least August and possibly beyond, and that she continued to take Rath medications.
Rath’s agents would pick her up and take her to the clinic. They were supposed to pick her up on 5 October but did not arrive. They also informed her that she should not take antiretrovirals. Her condition deteriorated remarkably in the time that she was on the Rath trial. For example she began having epileptic fits. She went to hospital and was diagnosed with TB. She began TB treatment but her CD4 count was extremely low (approximately 15), her condition deteriorated, she suffered memory loss and stopped talking.
She died of a combination of liver failure and AIDS-related conditions on 5 October 2005.
‘We cannot know if Rath’s high-dosage drugs contributed to her illness. We also cannot ascertain if the fact that she never initiated antiretroviral treatment -even though she was earmarked for such treatment- was partly a result of the false claims made to her by Rath’s agents or the slowness of the public health system. But at a minimum Rath’s claims that his vitamins would improve her health were misleading and created false hope,’ said TAC.
The TAC said it had been alerted to several other deaths of patients on Rath’s trial but have not been able to investigate these.
It said the deaths caused directly by Rath’s trial were few compared to the numerous deaths caused by the pseudo-scientific confusion about HIV that was prevalent throughout South Africa.
‘Doctors have frequently reported that many patients are too scared to initiate antiretroviral treatment or that they present too late to health facilities because they are so confused by mixed messages on the treatment of AIDS. Rath is just one contributor (a particularly serious one) to this confusion,’ said the TAC.
It said that only with clear messages from political leaders, including the Minister of Health and President Mbeki, can this confusion be alleviated.
The TAC also pointed out that not a single peer-reviewed study confirmed Rath’s claims.
‘There are no relevant statistics from Rath’s trials. There cannot be, because we have determined in our investigations of Rath that there are no proper protocols in place or consistent drug prescriptions: sometimes patients are told to take 30 tablets a day, sometimes 20, sometimes just a few,’ said the statement.
‘Instead Rath, like other charlatans, depends on anecdotal evidence to market his theories. In doing so, he makes a point of counting his successful cases and ignoring his failures.
We have presented the five cases to counter the unproven propaganda claims based on anecdotes made by Rath. The available anecdotal evidence reinforces the unlikeliness of Rath’s claim that his micronutrients reverse the course of AIDS,’ said the TAC.