October 7, 2005

S.African university slams “AIDS vitamins” doctor

By Gordon Bell

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A leading South African university
has joined opposition to a German doctor's use of vitamins to
fight HIV/AIDS, accusing him of endangering lives by promoting
an untested alternative to life-prolonging drugs.

Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) has
demanded Dr Matthias Rath stop what it says are unethical
trials of his multivitamins on AIDS sufferers in Cape Town's
Khayelitsha township.

"While the university supports any ethical, scientifically
valid research into alternative ways of managing HIV/AIDS, we
condemn the irresponsible and indeed potentially
life-threatening activities of the Dr Rath Foundation," Wits
Vice-Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa said in a statement on Thursday.

The trials had not been approved by any research ethics
committee or been subjected to scientific scrutiny, he said.

The Rath Foundation in South Africa declined to comment on
the statement.

The Rath Foundation advocates nutrition and its
multivitamins to fight AIDS and has led a campaign through
pamphlets and newspaper advertisements against anti-retroviral
drugs, which it says are poisons.

The Wits statement follows a petition from Cape Town
doctors and academics last week demanding the government act
against Rath, who critics say is endangering the sick by
persuading them to stop taking medicine that could prolong
their lives.

"For patients with advanced HIV, stopping anti-retroviral
medicine for even a few weeks can be the difference between
life and death," the Cape Town petition said.

South Africa is battling a rampant AIDS epidemic with 5.6
million of its 45 million people estimated to be infected with
the HIV virus that leads to the disease.


South Africa's Medicines Control Council (MCC) is probing
claims that the foundation is conducting illegal research
trials on AIDS victims and that it is urging patients not to
take ARVs.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has in the past
said life-prolonging anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs may be
dangerous and advocated eating garlic, lemon and beetroot --
drawing criticism from activists who campaigned for years
before the government launched a publicly funded ARV program.

Activists say AIDS kills up to 900 people a day but only
60,000 receive publicly-funded ARVs.

Tshabalala-Msimang has distanced the government from Rath's
campaign but dismissed calls to condemn the foundation.

"People who have any information about illegal activities
should submit the information to the MCC," health department
spokesman Sibani Mngadi told Reuters.

Wits University's Nongxa said people enrolled in Rath's
trials were not given accurate information about alternative
medicines and were therefore not able to give informed consent.

The multivitamins were also not approved by the Medicines
Control Council, he said, adding: "This is directly counter to
the laws of this country and the Constitution."

Rath also says the United States, Britain, the United
Nations and the World Health Organization are part of a
conspiracy to promote costly drugs on behalf of an
international drugs cartel.