The Guardian investigates the Rath Foundation and the other nutritionists who prey on the vulnerable in South Africa
Chris McGreal investigates Matthias Rath and other charlatans in South Africa in No drugs, just take vitamins: the dangerous advice to cure HIV.
Last week the vitamin campaigner Matthias Rath abandoned a libel suit against the Guardian that had been prompted by articles in which he was accused of endangering thousands of lives by promoting his own pills while denouncing more conventional medicines. Rath focuses his business in eight countries across the world through his website, but it was in South Africa - where he gave them away for free - that his activities generated most concern. Here Chris McGreal investigates the Rath Foundation, and the highly controversial claims of other 'nutritionists' working in the country worst affected by the Aids epidemic, who insist their remedies are the solution to a crisis affecting millions of lives.
Matthias Rath, the notorious AIDS denialist and vitamin salesman who has campaigned against anti-retrovirals and peddled vitamins as AIDS cures has dropped his libel action against the Guardian newspaper. He sued over articles criticising his activities in South Africa where he conducted illegal clinical trials and persuaded countless people to stop taking anti-retroviral medication.
Read the Guardian's reports:
Professor Billy advertised an AIDS "cure" in South Africa. The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa has often ruled against advertisements like these after complaints by the Treatment Action Campaign and others. In this case the company has agreed to withdraw the advertising. The ruling of the ASASA is attached.
HIV denialists boast that they oppose the science-driven “AIDS orthodoxy,” and many people who distrust medicine find this self-ascribed rebel stance appealing. But the denialists paradoxically idealize the very “establishment” they claim to reject. This is manifested in a striking pattern of exaggerations and outright lies from denialists about their institutional positions, scientific qualifications, and publications, and their false and often fraudulent claims of support from legitimate scientists and doctors. Some of these lies are symptoms of denialists’ delusions that they are knowledgeable and important, while others are part of a systematic effort to deceive a vulnerable public. In both cases, the denialists’ lies about themselves are a dimension of their lies about HIV and AIDS.
Although the life expectancy for HIV patients on combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) has increased steadily since 1996 in developed countries, it still falls short of that in the general population, researchers found.
The remaining life expectancy for a 20-year-old HIV patient on cART increased from 36.1 years in 1996-1999 to 49.4 years in 2003-2005, Robert Hogg, Ph.D., of the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS here, and colleagues reported in the July 26 issue of The Lancet. Read more »
Thanks to improving anti-HIV treatment, people with HIV, in the first five years after diagnosis with HIV, now have mortality rates similar to those seen in the general population, according to a large European study published in the July 2nd edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Aidsmap has a story on the study.
Krishnan Bhaskaran, MSc; Osamah Hamouda, MD; Mette Sannes, MLabTech; Faroudy Boufassa, MD; Anne M. Johnson, MD; Paul C. Lambert, PhD; Kholoud Porter, PhD; for the CASCADE Collaboration
Context Mortality among human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)–infected individuals has decreased dramatically in countries with good access to treatment and may now be close to mortality in the general uninfected population.
Objective To evaluate changes in the mortality gap between HIV-infected individuals and the general uninfected population.
Design, Setting, and Population Mortality following HIV seroconversion in a large multinational collaboration of HIV seroconverter cohorts (CASCADE) was compared with expected mortality, calculated by applying general population death rates matched on demographic factors. A Poisson-based model adjusted for duration of infection was constructed to assess changes over calendar time in the excess mortality among HIV-infected individuals. Data pooled in September 2007 were analyzed in March 2008, covering years at risk 1981-2006.
Main Outcome Measure Excess mortality among HIV-infected individuals compared with that of the general uninfected population.
Results Of 16 534 individuals with median duration of follow-up of 6.3 years (range, 1 day to 23.8 years), 2571 died, compared with 235 deaths expected in an equivalent general population cohort. The excess mortality rate (per 1000 person-years) decreased from 40.8 (95% confidence interval [CI], 38.5-43.0; 1275.9 excess deaths in 31 302 person-years) before the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (pre-1996) to 6.1 (95% CI, 4.8-7.4; 89.6 excess deaths in 14 703 person-years) in 2004-2006 (adjusted excess hazard ratio, 0.05 [95% CI, 0.03-0.09] for 2004-2006 vs pre-1996). By 2004-2006, no excess mortality was observed in the first 5 years following HIV seroconversion among those infected sexually, though a cumulative excess probability of death remained over the longer term (4.8% [95% CI, 2.5%-8.6%] in the first 10 years among those aged 15-24 years).
Conclusions Mortality rates for HIV-infected persons have become much closer to general mortality rates since the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy. In industrialized countries, persons infected sexually with HIV now appear to experience mortality rates similar to those of the general population in the first 5 years following infection, though a mortality excess remains as duration of HIV infection lengthens. Read more »
In Thailand, people co-infected with HIV and tuberculosis who receive antiretroviral therapy are six times as likely to survive as those who do not, according to a study reported in the June 1st issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. See Aidsmap's report on the study.
Sanguanwongse N, Cain KP, Suriya P, Nateniyom S, Yamada N, Wattanaamornkiat W, Sumnapan S, Sattayawuthipong W, Kaewsa-ard S, Ingkaseth S, Varma JK. Read more »
Bob Ostertag writes on the Huffington Post on the parallels between climate change denialism and AIDS denialism:
As with climate change denialists, AIDS denialists piece together their arguments from misinterpretations of valid scientific papers, from the comments of respected scientists venturing out of their specialty and writing in non-peer reviewed journals, and the political support of conservative institutions. And again, as with climate change denialism, the whole package gets its momentum and false air of rigor from being endlessly circulated on the Internet.
Chao C, Jacobson LP, Tashkin D, Martínez-Maza O, Roth MD, Margolick JB, Chmiel JS, Rinaldo C, Zhang ZF, Detels R.
The effects of recreational drugs on CD4 and CD8 T cells in humans are not well understood. We conducted a longitudinal analysis of men who have sex with men (MSM) enrolled in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) to define associations between self-reported use of marijuana, cocaine, poppers and amphetamines, and CD4 and CD8 T cell parameters in both HIV-uninfected and HIV-infected MSM. For the HIV-infected MSM, we used clinical and laboratory data collected semiannually before 1996 to avoid potential effects of antiretroviral treatment. A regression model that allowed random intercepts and slopes as well as autoregressive covariance structure for within subject errors was used. Potential confounders adjusted for included length of follow-up, demographics, tobacco smoking, alcohol use, risky sexual behaviors, history of sexually transmitted infections, and antiviral therapy. We found no clinically meaningful associations between use of marijuana, cocaine, poppers, or amphetamines and CD4 and CD8 T cell counts, percentages, or rates of change in either HIV-uninfected or -infected men. The regression coefficients were of minimum magnitude despite some reaching statistical significance. No threshold effect was detected for frequent (at least weekly) or continuous substance use in the previous year. These results indicate that use of these substances does not adversely affect the numbers and percentages of circulating CD4 or CD8 T cells in either HIV-uninfected or -infected MSM.
Internet company Google has said that advertisements supplied by its AdSense service to websites across the country should not have included ones that claim to "cure" HIV. – Pinknews.co.uk
Today a South African court handed down a landmark judgment in a case initiated by Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the South African Medical Association (SAMA) against Matthias Rath and the Government of South Africa.
This judgment unequivocally establishes the duty of the state to enforce the scientific governance of medicines as defined in the country's Medicines Act. The case demonstrated how the South African Minister of Health wilfully obstructed the rule of law and promoted pseudoscience, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of many people.
The judgment is effectively a stern warning to all purveyors of untested and unregistered medicines, especially those selling so-called “cures” for HIV/AIDS. (AIDSTruth has reported on a number of such cases, including the Minister of Health's support for the untested "Ubhejane" treatment.)
- Read a summary of the judgment and the TAC's statement here.
- Read the full judgment here.
- Read background on the case.
Here is some media coverage of the court victory:
The World Health Organisation and UNAIDS issued this statement on 12 June.
Correction to AIDS story in Independent article 8 June 2008
We wish to clarify misinterpretations concerning WHO and UNAIDS positions on the status of the AIDS epidemic in recent media articles. The story in the Independent on Sunday titled: “Threat of world AIDS pandemic among heterosexuals is over, report admits” contained a few seriously misleading statements that have led to inferences and conclusions that bear no relation to the highly complex realities of the HIV epidemic.
First and foremost, the global HIV epidemic is by no means over. At the end of 2007, an estimated 33.2 million people were living with HIV. Some 2.5 million people became newly infected that year, and 2.1 million died of AIDS. AIDS remains the leading cause of death in Africa. Read more »
The International AIDS Society has published a list of fake AIDS "cures" on their website. While there are unfortunately more "cures" that could be added to this list, it is important that the IAS as the representative body of HIV/AIDS scientists has taken a strong stand against this dangerous and exploitative form of pseudoscience.
In the article Unproven AIDS "cures" they say:
The IAS urges its worldwide membership to hold their governments to account for unproven claims of AIDS cures. We advise health care workers and policy makers throughout the world to continue to implement ARV treatment programmes for all who need them, and to clarify the proven dangers of stopping ARVs, including the risk of disease progression and the development of drug resistance.
Mortality in HIV-infected Ugandan adults receiving antiretroviral treatment and survival of their HIV-uninfected children: a prospective cohort study.
Mermin J, Were W, Ekwaru JP, Moore D, Downing R, Behumbiize P, Lule JR, Coutinho A, Tappero J, Bunnell R.
BACKGROUND: Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is increasingly available in Africa, but physicians and clinical services are few. We therefore assessed the effect of a home-based ART programme in Uganda on mortality, hospital admissions, and orphanhood in people with HIV-1 and their household members. Read more »
The South African Sunday Times newspaper ran an exposé today about a meeting of quacks in the port city of Durban, the major city in the epicentre of SA's HIV epidemic. The meeting was attended by the provincial health minister for KwaZulu-Natal Peggy Nkonyeni and addressed by the national Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
The Sunday Times reports:
The KwaZulu-Natal Health Department is actively promoting Aids denialists and quack Aids cures — with the blessing of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Last Friday, the department hosted an “information workshop on HIV treatment” at a Durban hotel, where speakers condemned antiretroviral drugs and called for traditional medicine to be promoted instead. The meeting was opened by the KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni. Tshabalala-Msimang delivered the keynote address. Read full story.
Riddler SA, Haubrich R, DiRienzo AG, Peeples L, Powderly WG, Klingman KL, Garren KW, George T, Rooney JF, Brizz B, Lalloo UG, Murphy RL, Swindells S, Havlir D, Mellors JW; AIDS Clinical Trials Group Study A5142 Team. 2008. Class-sparing regimens for initial treatment of HIV-1 infection. N Engl J Med 358, 2095-2106. PMID: 18480202
Peggy Nkonyeni, provincial Minister of Health in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal, the province that accounts for a quarter of HIV cases in that country, has been in the news recently for a denialist-inspired crusade against her own doctors. Earlier this year, a doctor at the rural Manguzi hospital was threatened withbdisciplinary action for providing two drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, allegedly in contravention of national guidelines (the dual therapy protocol is standard, recommended by the WHO and superior to the Nevirapine-only protocol used until recently in South Africa). After threatening a doctor for not unnecessarily letting infants be infected, she made the following extraordinary statement:
AZT is toxic and must be controlled. Dual therapy has not been agreed upon. ... We have a problem with doctors who work in rural areas. They do not care about people. It is all about profit and not about caring for people. Read more »
It seems others share our interpretation of RA's "victory". See the Housing Works AIDS Issues Update story. Money quote:
D.C. Fights Back member and Whitman-Walker client Mark Fischer says the only time he got an opportunistic infection was when he stopped taking his meds. "These aren't whistleblowers. They're divergent thinkers who are 21st century snake oil salesmen. And especially in D.C., where there are so many reasons why people don't get treatment, we don't need this," Fischer said.
AIDSTruth does not normally welcome the publication of any article in a mainstream magazine that features Peter Duesberg or any other AIDS denialist. Any publicity for AIDS denialists and their scientifically rejected views could increase the chances that vulnerable individuals will die, either by believing that HIV is harmless or that ARVs cause AIDS. That AIDS denialism kills is unquestionable (see, for example, our pages on denialism and politics as well as about denialists who have died).
The recent article in Discover Magazine (Peter's Principles, by Jeanne Lenzer) is an exception, however, so we are pleased to post it on AIDSTruth. There is much in the article with which we do not agree - it does not make it clear enough that Duesberg and his fellow denialists are simply wrong on all aspects of the science that they attempt to promote. However, the article confirms what we have been saying on AIDSTruth: Read more »