Govt acts against Rath at last
The National Health Department has for the first time taken firm steps against vitamin seller Matthias Rath by confiscating consignments of his flagship multi-vitamin VitaCell in Durban and Cape Town and opening criminal cases for his alleged contravention of the Medicines Act.
This follows the discovery that the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) was running a clinic selling Rath’s products in Durban’s city centre and these products in homes in Khayelitsha and surrounding areas in Cape Town.
Rath started making headlines in 2005 when he offered his multi-vitamins as an alternative to anti-retrovirals, causing widespread confusion among those infected while enjoying the tacit support of the then Health Minister Dr Manto Tshbalala-Msimang and her Director-General Thami Mseleku.
Calls for Rath to be investigated and stopped were rejected and his operations were only finally brought to a halt last year after the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) instituted legal action.
The outcome was a court ruling in favour of the TAC which saw the Cape High Court ordering the health department to investigate Rath’s unlawful actions and take steps to prevent Rath and his SANCO agents from conducting unauthorized clinical trials. The court also ordered the parties to stop publishing advertisements about the untested effects of VitaCell.
Medicines Control Council registrar Dr Mandisa Hela confirmed yesterday that the Law Enforcement Unit was conducting an investigation ‘as per court order’.
She said a consignment of VitaCell, which had been indicated as a food protein supplement, had been confiscated in Cape Town after entering the country via Johannesburg, while another consignment had entered via Durban harbor and was confiscated there.
Hela said a law enforcement inspector had also visited the SANCO clinic in Durban city centre where he found patients in a waiting room with government clinic documents indicating their CD4 counts as well as posters on the wall advertising VitaCell.
‘So it is clear that there was some involvement of patients,’ Hela said, adding that booklets were also being handed out.
Hela said the inspector tried to seize the VitaCell, stock, but was obstructed by the SANCO officials and he had to later return to the clinic to confiscate the pills with the assistance of the SA Police Services.
‘From the department’s side we are clear. If claims are being made around these products, they need to be substantiated and we then need to be given the opportunity to review it,’ said Hela, in a massive departure from the Tshabalala-Msimang era, where Rath operated unhindered, running similar clinics in Cape Town townships.
Hela added that they were concerned about the ‘quality’ of the Rath products and would be conducting various tests on VitaCell.
TAC Treasurer Nathan Geffen said he was delighted at the outcome and said they had been impressed by the co-operation they had received from department officials after bringing the activities of the Durban clinic to their attention.
‘This is symbolic of a new era in relation to the relationship between government and civil society,’ said Geffen, adding that Rath’s residual activity was quite marginal and that there were much greater threats such as Zeblon Gwala who sells a brown liquid called uBhejane, claiming it is better than ARVs.
Following the Cape High Court verdict, Rath lodged an appeal while TAC in turn counter-appealed (they believed some aspects of the judgment could be stronger) and applied for an interim execution order. Rath’s leave to appeal was granted, but so was TAC’s leave to counter-appeal and the request for an interim execution order.
Rath failed to file further court papers and is now out of time. The appeal process is over and the court case now complete. The Cape High Court order stands unchallenged, the case is over. ‘ Health-e news.