The argument about whether or not multivitamins are as effective as antiretroviral treatment in treating HIV/AIDS-related illness is poised to rear its controversial head once again despite the fact it’s most ardent advocator, Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, has almost disappeared from public life, writes Akhona Cira in the JournAIDS blog.
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) claims the state has not only been silent on the campaign’s application to ban notorious vitamins peddler Mathias Rath from selling his wares and conducting unauthorised clinical trials, but it has also supported an application by Rath for late filling of a 2000-page affidavit, Sapa reported:

    “The TAC and the South African Medical Association have asked the Cape High Court to ban Rath from distributing unregistered medicines, conducting unauthorised clinical trials and making false claims about multivitamins. It has also asked the court to order the state to take reasonable measures to rein in Rath.”

TAC spokesperson, Nathan Geffen told Sapa on Tuesday this week that the TAC had filed the application in November 2005. Since then, the TAC has forged a more amiable relationship with the government to the extent the two entities, it can be tentatively said, planned to work with and not against each other in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Developments in the Rath case are threatening all of that, according to Geffen.

    “This will certainly challenge our relations with government,” he said. “I really really hope it doesn’t take us back to square one … It certainly is a setback,” he said.

Rath’s 2000-page affidavit, which according to Sapa is a contained in nine lever arch files, has already become a matter of contention at the Cape Town High Court because of its lateness.

    “Rath’s advocate Dumisa Ntsebenza told the court the answering affidavit was delayed because Rath had been awaiting the outcome of a German court case. However, Judge Burton Fourie said he found this difficult to believe because it had not been mentioned in 13 months of court correspondence between the TAC’s lawyer and Rath’s legal team. Ntsebenza said it was “a matter of life and death” for Rath that the affidavit be accepted, the report said.

Why is the state supporting Rath in this matter?

Perhaps Acting Minister of Health Jeff Radebe has decided to ascribe to the Martin Tupper philosophy, “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech”, by choosing to not comment on the matter as yet. However, some might see this as yet another hurdle for HIV/AIDS campaigners to jump in the course of helping people living with the disease.

If the health ministry and the government suddenly revert to treating HIV/AIDS campaigners with indifference, the small steps that have been taken to improve the relationship could have all been for naught. The fact that the TAC is already organising for its members to protest outside the court on Thursday, the day set for the hearing before Judge Burton Fourie, already hints at the beginnings of its reverting to having to make a lot of noise in order to be heard.

In order to help as many people as possible the state must, and this point has been made countless times, take immediate action when there are things which threaten the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS and any possibility it has of success.

So far the media has been rather amiss at providing any critical analysis of this crucial relationship, preferring to concentrate instead on personalities like Tshabalala-Msimang and Rath and their idiosyncratic response to the pandemic. One hopes that this issue will receive some serious consideration from the media – because the principles are more important than the personalities – as the court case unfurls.