TAC Briefing: The harmful activities of Matthias Rath
(Also see below:Rath's false allegations against TAC)
Defend science, Defend government's antiretroviral programme
18 April 2005
The last few months have seen an unprecedented and deliberate smear campaign against the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and its members, as well as the Medicines Control Council. However, the real aim of these attacks is to reinvent HIV denialism and to undermine the treatment of people who need antiretrovirals (ARVs).
Although, this is a frustrating side-show to our work of treatment literacy, reducing medicine prices and improving health facilities, it is important. About 500 000 people need treatment with ARVs. Fewer than 100 000 people have access. This deliberate confusion is a direct attack on the public health message – get tested, get treated and always use condoms for sex. The Rath Foundation is preying on vulnerable people with life-threatening illnesses with two aims: to sell their products and to support the HIV denialists who have caused enormous damage to our country.
TAC has evidence that Matthias Rath runs unregistered medical practices in Cape Town townships and conducts unauthorised, unethical and dangerous experiments on people with HIV. Yet government has failed to stop him.
A defamation campaign to market vitamins
Matthias Rath, a wealthy vitamin salesman, began an advertising campaign in South African newspapers over a year ago. His advertisements claim Rath is a scientist who discovered natural health solutions to health problems. They also defamed the Medicines Control Council (MCC), accusing it of being a front for the pharmaceutical industry because it aimed to regulate the safety and efficacy of complementary and traditional medicines. As the year progressed, Rath's advertisements became more outrageous. He eventually began claiming that antiretrovirals for treating AIDS were toxic and that multivitamins are a treatment for AIDS.
Consequently, TAC and a private individual, George Stacey, lodged a complaint against Rath with the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASASA) against Rath's false claims. Rath proceeded to run defamatory attacks on TAC, accusing us of being a drug company front and paying people to demonstrate. ASASA ruled that Rath's claims were unsubstantiated and must be withdrawn. Rath then ran adverts in Sowetan and other newspapers defaming ASASA, accusing it also of being a drug company front. Most of these adverts continued defaming TAC. Rath and the newspapers that run these adverts are in breach of ASASA's ruling. Furthermore, Rath continues to spread these defamatory attacks via pamphlets and posters in the Western Cape, as well as on the Internet.
Rath's defamation campaign and vindictive pamphlets and posters which contain numerous false claims are causing confusion in communities and support groups of people living with HIV/AIDS. TAC members are expressing concern that people who need to commence antiretroviral treatment are reluctant to start and people on antiretroviral treatment might not adhere.
The WHO, UNICEF and UNAIDS have condemned Rath's misrepresentations of their advice on nutrition. In a new pamphlet distributed on 16 April in Khayelithsa and on his website, Rath accuses "drug interests within the WHO and other UN bodies" of "directly attacking" his foundation's "groundbreaking work".
Rath's strategy is to defame anyone who points out his marketing strategy and lies. Usually he accuses them of being a drug company front. Ironically, his multivitamin prices, as sold on the Internet, are extortionate. His basic vitamin tablets cost $29.95 (+/-R180) per month. The more expensive combinations of tablets can cost up to R3 500 per month. By comparison, local pharmacies sell an expensive brand-name multivitamin product at R62 per month.
TAC would not ever wish to limit the right to free expression and fair comment in our society. We have relied on freedom of expression rights to carry out our work. We encourage full discussion on the risks and benefits of antiretrovirals. However, the right to free expression and fair comment does not include the right to defame other persons, and particularly not in an inflammatory and inciting manner.
Illegal Medical Practices
The purpose of these defamatory attacks is to market Rath's vitamin brands. He has established facilities in Khayelitsha, Nyanga and Mandela Park (Hout Bay) where people purporting to be doctors distribute his multivitamins in his name. TAC confirmed that Rath is not registered with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and therefore it is illegal for Rath to run this practice.
In treating patients, Rath's agents claim that antiretrovirals should not be taken and that multivitamins are a treatment for HIV/AIDS. This is clear from his advertisements, and from the affidavit given to the HPCSA. This is a breach of the Medicines Act.
Illegal Experiments on People
TAC has handed the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the police an affidavit with evidence that Rath is conducting experiments on people. An advert placed in The Mercury on 15 April and a pamphlet distributed at a meeting addressed by the Minister of Health in Khayelitsha on 16 April provides further evidence that experimentation has taken place. Either Rath does not have permission to conduct these experiments from the MCC or the MCC has acted illegally by giving him permission. It is our strong suspicion that the former is the case. Implicated in this scandal are AIDS denialists Sam Mhlongo and David Rasnick. The Mercury confirmed in a telephone conversation with TAC that they had confirmed with Rasnick and Mhlongo that they were involved in this experiment. TAC has obtained samples of Rath's multivitamins. They are marketed so that a reasonable patient would believe them to be medicines in replacement of approved antiretroviral medication, not as food supplements, and some of his brands only contain German descriptions of their contents.
Dangerous and unethical treatment of patients
Rath and his agents are acting dangerously and unethically for the following reasons:
He and his agents are providing patients with false medical advice that could lead to them not taking antiretrovirals when they require them and consequently they could die.
Assuming Rath's products contain what they state, he is prescribing some vitamins in excess of their recommended daily allowance (RDA), and vitamin C far beyond safe levels. According to the US National Institutes for Health (NIH), amounts greater than 2000mg per day cause diarrhoea. Rath has prescribed the affidavit deponents more than twice this limit. While diarrhoea might be a relatively minor ailment in otherwise healthy people, it is life-threatening for people with advanced HIV disease.
Multivitamin supplements are supplied to people with HIV in the public health sector for free. This is because there is some evidence that they delay the onset of AIDS. There is no reason for Rath to establish separate vitamin dispensing depots in townships in order to use poor people for his marketing campaign.
Rath's agents draw blood from patients and take photographs of them in their underwear, apparently for use in his marketing. No proper counselling is accompanied with these actions. No proper informed consent is given.
Rulings and findings against Rath
Rath has numerous rulings and findings against him in South Africa, Europe and North America
The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa has ordered Rath to withdraw his unsubstantiated claims. The British Advertising Standards Authority has forced Rath to remove his advertising for treatments as they were unsupported by evidence and misled the public. (f. 2) The Food and Drug Administration in the USA has cautioned Rath for advertising some of his products in contravention of US law. (f. 3)
The South African Medical Association, the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, UNAIDS, WHO and UNICEF have condemned Rath's misrepresentations. The Western Cape Government has issued a condemnation of people undermining the antiretroviral rollout which, without mentioning his name, is clearly aimed at Rath. (f. 4)
The Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer have found no proof that any of Rath’s products have any impact upon human cancer. (f. 5) A British Medical Journal article has examined the claims made about one of Rath's products and found no evidence to support them. (f. 6)
Rath was ordered by a Dutch court to stop making improper allegations against a company called Numico. (f. 7)
Rath is being investigated in Germany in connection with the death of a boy. The boy had cancer but was taken off chemotherapy and treated by Rath with multivitamins. Rath used the boy to market his medicines. The boy subsequently died. (f. 8)
Institutional failure to deal with Rath
TAC has lodged complaints against Rath's activities with ASASA, the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and the Medicines Control Council (MCC). Only ASASA has consistently fulfilled its mandate. The HPCSA has laid a charge against Rath with the police, but the case is not moving forward. The MCC has failed to answer in writing two lawyers letters written by TAC requesting that they take action against Rath. In a number of telephone conversations between MCC and TAC, no clear commitment to action has been taken. A written response was promised by an MCC lawyer, but seems to be stuck in the registrar's office.
Rath can act with impunity because an environment has been created that sanctions AIDS denialism and quackery. The Minister of Health, in contradiction of ANC and government policy, was quoted supporting Rath in Business Day (f. 9). At a meeting in Khayelitsha on 16 April, she was asked by dozens of members of the Khayelitsha community to condemn Rath. She refused to do so. We are sure that if government unequivocally condemned Rath and appropriate action was taken against him, his activities would cease and he would become irrelevant. The MCC proceeded to litigate against Rath (f. 10), but it was alleged to TAC by an MCC member that they were stopped from continuing litigation by the Minister of Health.
The overt support of Rath by some in SANCO, NAPWA and the Traditional Healers' Organisation demonstrates that there is an alliance to undermine TAC and government's antiretroviral programme. Anthony Brink the denialist who claims to have the support of President Mbeki and Minister Tshabalala-Msimang.
TAC is litigating to stop Rath's defaming us. We have taken action to stop his unethical medical practices. If the MCC and HPCSA fail to close down Rath's medical activities by 27 April, TAC will proceed with further litigation to do so.
1 Some of the affidavits are presented here anonymously although the deponents have not requested this. However, TAC believes it is prudent to withhold their names until papers are filed.
2UK’s Advertising Standards Authority finding against Rath.
3Warning letter from the F.D.A. requesting Rath to stop making false claims on his website.
4South African Medical Association and Southern African HIV Clinicians Society condemns Matthias Rath. and
5Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer have found no proof that Rath's vitamin preparations have any effect on humna cancer
6Article on BMJ.com website regarding the validity of advertising claims for multivitamin preparation. and BMJ 1998;317:1069-1071
7Rath Slapped With Court Order. 'Mafia' Allegations Cease
8http://www.swr.de/report/archiv/sendungen/041115/02/frames.html and http://www4.dr-rath-foundation.org/THE_FOUNDATION/true_story_dominik.html
9 Business Day, 13 April 2005.
[END OF PRESS STATEMENT ON RATH'S DANGEROUS ACTIVITIES]
Rath's false allegations against TAC
Rath and his agents allege that TAC is involved in money laundering operations to receive drug company funds. Anyone who has followed TAC's campaigns against the pharmaceutical industry over the last six years will realise these allegations are absurd. Rath also alleges that TAC pays people to demonstrate. These allegations are false and defamatory.
False allegation: TAC receives "millions" from the Rockefeller Foundation which is a pharmaceutical company front
TAC has received less than R500 000 from the Rockefeller foundation. But more importantly the Rockefeller foundation is not a drug company front and Rath's pamphlets confuse the Rockefeller Foundation with the Rockefeller family's financial interests. The Rockefeller Foundation has an excellent reputation as a funder of progressive health, food security and cultural projects. The Foundation's money is from the original corpus and standard investments upon it. The original corpus was fully funded in 1929! Numerous respectable organisations, including the World Food Programme and Health Systems Trust accept money from the Rockefeller Foundation.
False allegation: TAC was involved in a money laundering scheme with the European Coalition of Positive People (ECPP) in order to get drug company funding
On 20 June 2000 TAC signed a funding contract with the ECPP for R180 000. This was to fund a salary for our national co-ordinator. The contract, which is in our court papers, states that a condition of the TAC entering the funding arrangement is that "No funding shall come from, directly or indirectly, from any pharmaceutical company." The TAC only accepted R120 000 of the ECPP contract amount. This was because webecame dissatisfied, after the arrangement was entered into, with the public stance of the ECPP on access to affordable medicines. It became apparent that this position differed significantly from ours. We came to the view that the ECPP's position was too similar to that of the pharmaceutical industry, which we opposed, and was a policy position unlikely to lead to greater access to life-saving medicines. We therefore declined to accept the remainder of the grant from the ECCP, or to accept any further funds from them. When our national co-ordinator resigned, TAC secretariat member Mark Heywood informed the ECPP on behalf of the National Executive Committee that the TAC would not be accepting the remainder of the money. No evidence has ever been shown that this money was from the pharmaceutical industry and TAC took reasonable measures to ensure that it was free of drug company interests.
False allegation: TAC was involved in a money laundering scheme with the Treatment Action Group (TAG) to get drug company money
TAG, a US based treatment advocacy and education organisation, does indeed take money from pharmaceutical companies. However, it is aware of TAC's policy of not taking pharmaceutical money and specifically raised money from the following sources to support a joint community treatment literacy programme with TAC: NIH, Irene Diamond Fund, Royal S. Marks Foundation Fund, AIDS Action Baltimore, and UNAIDS. None of these sources are known to be drug company fronts.
False allegation: TAC receives drug company money through the AIDS Foundation of South Africa
The AIDS Foundation of South Africa raises money from numerous sources to donate to different AIDS organisations. Its director, Debbie Matthews, is aware of TAC's policy of not taking drug money. The Foundation's sources for TAC funding are listed in an affidavit by Matthews. None of these are known to be drug company fronts.
False allegation: TAC pays people to demonstrate
This allegation is utterly vindictive. TAC has never paid anyone to demonstrate. As is standard with most organisations involved in public mobilisation in South Africa, we provide people with basic refreshments (to prevent dehydration and illness while marching) and transport.
[END OF RATH'S FALSE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST TAC]