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German doctor cures aids with garlic and olive oil { November 29 2005 }

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AIDS activists, doctors sue South Africa's health minister
Tuesday, November 29, 2005; Posted: 12:03 p.m. EST (17:03 GMT)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) -- Activists and doctors are taking legal action to try to force South Africa's health minister to close down the operations of a German-born doctor accused of endangering AIDS patients in one of the world's hardest hit countries.

The Treatment Action Campaign and South African Medical Association said Tuesday that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang -- known for espousing garlic and olive oil instead of antiretroviral drugs for people with HIV -- has failed to protect public health by allowing Matthias Rath to push vitamin compounds as an alternative to antiretroviral therapy.

Leaders of the two organizations -- flanked by representatives of the trade union movement and communist party -- said at a press conference they were taking unprecedented joint legal action because they felt all other avenues had been exhausted.

"The Rath Foundation is sowing dissent and confusion among people and making our job of looking after patients with HIV very, very difficult," said the medical association's Mark Sonderup.

"Matthias Rath has come here and is using poor black people as guinea pigs," said Treatment Action Campaign general-secretary Sipho Mthathi. "We are asking our president and our political leaders to put an end to this now."

The lawsuit also named the head of the regulatory Medicines Control Council, Rath and some of his colleagues.

The Treatment Action Campaign repeatedly has clashed with Tshabalala-Msimang. It won a landmark case in 2002 forcing the government to provide the drug nevirapine to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission and waged a long-running civil disobedience campaign to force the Health Ministry to provide antiretroviral medicines.

The government began its long-awaited drug rollout program in 2003, but critics say it is woefully behind target, with an estimated 70,000 people receiving antiretrovirals through the public health sector.

An estimated 600 to 1,000 people are dying each day from AIDS-related causes. An estimated 6.3 million of South Africa's 47 million population is infected with HIV -- the highest total in the world.

Rath, who is active in the poor townships of the Western Cape, has been criticized by the World Health Organization and the scientific establishment for claiming that his supplements cure AIDS and that antiretroviral medicines are toxic.

Ralf Langner, spokesman for the Rath Foundation, said the new lawsuit was part of a long-running campaign by multinational drug companies to use fronts to sell antiretrovirals and prolong the AIDS crisis in the name of profit.

"Never before has a pharmaceutical cartel and its stakeholder shown so openly that they are willing to suppress any lifesaving information on alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs," he said in a telephone interview.

"This cartel is attacking a whole country for trying to protect its people's lives naturally."

The South African Health Ministry says there is no evidence that Rath's activities have harmed public health. The Medicines Control Council has been investigating the Rath Foundation but so far has not taken any action against it.

A group of 199 medical practitioners recently signed an open letter to health authorities in the Western Cape pleading for action. They said that thanks to Rath's foundation, "our patients are being inundated with propaganda encouraging them to stop lifesaving medicine."

The Treatment Action Campaign said at least five of Rath's patients recently died after they heeded his advice and shunned antiretroviral therapy. They included Marietta Ndziba, who appeared at a Rath press conference in June.

Diagnosed as HIV positive in 1999, Ndziba said that she could not talk or walk until she started taking Rath's compounds.

"After five days, something started to change in my body," the 29-year-old woman told journalists in June. "Now I can talk, speak and am not afraid of anything. I am so proud."

The Treatment Action Campaign said Ndziba died in October. Langner of the Rath Foundation confirmed that she was dead but said she was only one of hundreds of people taking the compounds and that the fatality rate among people on antiretrovirals was higher.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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