June 13, 2008 / 2:07 PM / in 10 years

South African court bans AIDS vitamin trials

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A South African court on Friday issued an order banning unauthorised clinical trials of vitamin therapies for AIDS conducted by a team including a former adviser to President Thabo Mbeki.

The Cape High Court ruled against German physician Matthias Rath and U.S. doctor David Rasnick, a former member of Mbeki’s AIDS advisory council, in response to a case brought by the lobby group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the South African Medical Association (SAMA).

The two bodies accused Rath of conducting illegal clinical trials among poor blacks and profiteering by selling and distributing unregistered vitamin treatments among poor communities.

“It is declared that the clinical trials conducted in South Africa ... are unlawful,” Cape High Court Judge Dumisani Zondi said in his ruling.

South Africa has one of the world’s highest incidences of HIV, with an estimated 500,000 people infected each year. About 1,000 die every day from AIDS-related illnesses.

Rath and his Rath Foundation promote vitamin pills and micronutrients, mainly minerals such as iron or iodine, that they say can reverse the course of HIV/AIDS.

Critics say Rath’s work has led to unnecessary deaths when HIV-positive people stopped using life-saving anti-retroviral drugs.

In court papers, TAC and SAMA accused the South African government of not doing enough to stop Rath and failing in its constitutional and statutory duty of care to the public.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has herself courted controversy by advocating garlic and beetroot instead of anti-retroviral drugs, denied the allegations.

Tshabalala-Msimang and a senior Health Ministry official argued before the court that Rath’s products were not really medicines but foodstuffs that were outside the Medicines Control Council’s regulatory scope.

The court said on Friday that Rath and Rasnick, two of 12 people mentioned in the suit, would be prohibited from conducting unlawful clinical trials in South Africa or from publishing advertisements for their products.

Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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