Kwazulu-Natal has the highest HIV prevalence of South Africa’s nine provinces. In recent years, government and NGOs in the region have been working tirelessly to change this dire situation and to do away with HIV-related stigma and ignorance surrounding the epidemic.
Government has rapidly scaled up the provision of antiretroviral (ARVs) medicines in the public health system. ARVs are the only proven way to suppress HIV in the human body. It is not a cure, but it is a highly effective treatment.
However, even as effective treatment is being rolled out to more and more districts, quacks are encouraging HIV positive people not to take ARVs. These quacks sell alternative medicines that have not been proven to treat HIV and that has not been registered with the Medicines Control Council.
One such quack is a Belgium man called Joachim Cools. He runs a small clinic in the rural area of KwaNgcolosi under Inkosi uBhengu. When you enter his clinic your eyes are drawn to a sign that says “TAC, Truth Action Campaign: HIV does not cause AIDS and AIDS can be cured”. He has no affiliation with the Treatment Action Campaign and he is simply wrong when he says HIV can be cured.
He told us that if a person’s body is stressed, it causes the body to react in a negative way. That is why, according to him, when you go for a test it will come back HIV positive. Not surprisingly, he sells a ‘magic’ juice, called Umlingo WaMangcolosi (UW). It seems to be selling like hot cakes at its price-tag of R80 a litre. Private distributers sell the concoction at R180 a litre. The label says that if you use his product you should stop taking any pharmaceutical drugs.
Another dangerous quack is a Dr Zondo from Inanda who claims to have been trained in Mexico. He sells a product called miracle mineral solution (MMS). He says it cures HIV and 31 other diseases including cancer and TB. Zondo might be pushing MMS in Kwazulu-Natal, but the product originally comes from the United States and is marketed by an American man called Jim Humble.
The problem with MMS is not only that it doesn’t do what Zondo claims it does, but it is actively harmful to the human body.
In May 2010 Health Canada warned Canadians about the health risks associated with MMS. They said that oral consumption of the product may cause health problems such as “abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea or more serious problems such as, poisoning, kidney failure and harm to red blood cells.” The United States Food and Drug Administration have also warned against using this dangerous product.
Cools and Zondo are both exploiting vulnerable people by telling them their unproven products can cure HIV. But even stranger, and possibly more worrying is the work of a company called HIVEX who claims to treat HIV with electromagnitism. If their blog are to be believed, they are subjecting HIV positive children to this unproven and unfeasible treatment.
The company claims that the HIVEX machine uses electro magnetism to target specific proteins in the HIV virus with the aim of disabling the virus and rendering it ineffective, so that cells stop dying and the immune system can regenerate. It may sound nice and sciency, but they have no evidence to back up this story. HIVEX was tested in a highly prelimnary trial at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, but the results of that study was never published. In any case, we understand that study offered no proof that it works.
We went to HIVEX at the Commercial City building in Durban to see for ourselves. Some of the people in the packed waiting room were clearly sick. One woman told us how her CD4 count has dropped and her viral load has gone up since she stopped taking ARVs and started to use HIVEX (a strong indication that her health is getting worse). However, she said that it was only to be expected that the machine would make her viral load higher due to how it works.
We were told that treatment with HIVEX costs R1,000 per treatment. In addition, patients are encouraged to purchase a ‘detox’ mixture that costs R200 per month. The man behind HIVEX’s operations seems to be someone called Clive Harvey Fox.
It is a contravention of the Medicines Act to offer a treatment for HIV if it is not registered as such with the Medicines Control Council. Treatments can only be registered once they have been proven to be safe and effective. In this way the law is supposed to protect us against quacks like those described above.
People like these are a threat to the fight against HIV. By encouraging people to stop treatment they are harming the health of those people and making it more likely that those people will develop resistance to HIV medicines. If they can show that their products work, they’d be welcome. As it is though, they are harming both individuals and the greater fight against HIV.
These quacks should be stopped and arrested for misleading and exploiting vulnerable people.
Also visit facebook page on Joachim Cools, Umlingo WamaNgcolosi and From HIV positive to HIV negative facebook group pages.