The Advertising Standards Authority last week ordered the immediate withdrawal of an advertisement for uBhejane, a herbal concoction that claims to act against HIV/AIDS, that appeared in Ilanga newspaper.


Any new advertisement will have to be submitted to the ASA before it is published.


This follows a complaint by the Treatment Action Campaign’€™s Nathan Geffen that the  uBhejane advertisement contained a number of unsubstantiated claims.


The advertisement claimed that the product ‘€œincreases your CD4 count and reduces the viral load until it disappears in the blood of the person suffering from the disease’€.


It also claimed that uBhejane can help people to ‘€œheal faster from diarrhoea, lack of appetite, glands and thrush’€, all common opportunistic infections associated with HIV.


It also described other ‘€œsymptoms’€ it acts against, namely ‘€œcancer, sore feet, kidneys, pneumonia and skin problems’€.


While HIV/AIDS is not specifically mentioned, the references to CD4 and viral load were enough to convince the ASA that it was ‘€œunlikely that any reasonable person’€ would associate these references to any other illness.


The ASA rejected the defence put forward by attorneys Thami Ndlovo and company, representing the company that makes uBhejane, that the ASA had no jurisdiction over it as it is a member of the Traditional Healer’€™s Association, which is not a member body of the ASA.


‘€œThe ASA has a duty to its members to investigate complaints relating to advertising, whether it be advertising that the members have produced or advertising that the members may carry,’€ noted the ASA in its ruling.


‘€œMedicinal products cannot be treated as an ordinary general commodity,’€ added the ASA.


‘€œThey have the potential for harmful as well as beneficial effects and can cause serious problems if not used safely. For this reason, there are specific regulations that strictly control the advertising and promotion of medicinal products.’€


Ubhejane’€™s manufacturers were required to provide ‘€œindependent verification from a credible expert in the field of all claims made in its advertising’€ but had failed to, said the authority.


It thus found the advertisement to be in breach of the advertising code and ordered its immediate withdrawal.


‘€œThe advertisement may not be used again in its current format until new substantiation has been submitted, evaluated, and a new ruling made,’€ concluded the ASA ruling.


In the past, the ASA has also ordered the withdrawal of an advertisement by the Rath Foundation making similar claims for its vitamins.


So far, the ASA is the only statuatory body that has been prepared to act against organisations selling AIDS ‘€œcures’€ to the public.