November 29, 2005

Activists, doctors sue S.Africa govt on AIDS

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African activists and doctors
have sued the government for not taking action against a
prominent "AIDS dissident" doctor who promotes untested
vitamins to fight the epidemic, officials said on Tuesday.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the South African
Medical Association (SAMA) said Health Minister Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang had failed the public by allowing Matthias
Rath to continue operating in South Africa.

"Matthias Rath ... is using poor, particularly black people
as guinea pigs ... and the government is doing nothing," TAC
general secretary Sipho Mthathi told a news briefing.

The TAC and the SAMA filed papers in the Cape High Court
demanding Tshabalala-Mismang and the state Medicines Control
Council act against Rath, who runs multivitamin trials on AIDS
patients in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township.

Critics say Rath's vitamin trials have not been approved by
a research ethics committee and discourage people from using
anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, which slow the progress of AIDS.

Activists say 900 South Africans die each day from
AIDS-related diseases, while official data estimate 5.6 million
of South Africa's 45 million population is infected with HIV,
the highest caseload in the world.

Rath, who is based in the United States, and his foundation
advocate nutrition and vitamins to fight AIDS and have used
pamphlets and newspaper advertisements to attack ARVs, which he
says are poisonous.

Tshabalala-Msimang has refused to condemn Rath, although
the MCC is probing claims the foundation's trials are illegal.

The ministry -- itself frequently attacked by activists as
supporting AIDS "denialist" positions -- confirmed papers had
been filed but dismissed them, saying policy would not change.

"We do not agree with the TAC's assertion that
anti-retroviral drugs are the only scientifically proven
intervention to reverse the course of AIDS," spokesman Sibani
Mngadi said in a statement.

The TAC, which won a landmark case in 2002 forcing the
government to provide drugs to prevent mother-to-child HIV
transmission, is already suing Rath for libel after he charged
the group was a front for a global drugs cartel.