Oath? What oath? Want some vitamins?

What was that thing Hippocrates said? Something about first doing no harm, wasn’t it? Or am I misremembering – maybe it was first bend your arm, or first wear this charm, or first wind up that yarn. Must have been, because the ‘do no harm’ thing doesn’t always seem to be uppermost in the minds of certain kinds of ‘healers’ – but maybe that kind doesn’t take a Hippocratic oath anyway. Maybe that’s what ‘complementary and alternative’ means. There’s this Rath Foundation for instance.

And so to Africa, where there exist “complementary and alternative medicine” practitioners pursuing the fashionable attack on mainstream medicine, just like in the UK. Take Matthias Rath and the Rath Foundation vitamin empire. They have been running advertising campaigns in newspapers and poster campaigns near HIV/Aids treatment centres, telling people that anti-retroviral drugs undermine the body’s immune system, and that “micro-nutrients alone can promote the defence against Aids”.

That’s nice, isn’t it. Positively papal in its niceness. It’s not good enough to tell people to take vitamins in addition to anti-retroviral drugs – no – it’s necessary to tell them the drugs actually undermine their immune systems. (Figuring – what – that they’re mostly very poor so can’t afford to buy both so therefore they have to be made to buy the one that will put money in the pockets of the vitamin people rather than the pockets of the retroviral drug people? How do some people sleep at night, I always wonder. I mean really – I don’t know how the pope and his assistants manage it, and I don’t know how this crowd does.)

…the Rath Foundation makes paranoid accusations against anyone who disagrees with it, accusing them of being in the pocket of the multinational pharmaceutical companies with advert headlines such as “Stop Aids genocide by the drug cartel”…[I]t likes to adopt a mainstream scientific stance and push multivitamins for “treating” illnesses. Harvard researchers have accused Rath of misinterpreting their findings to argue against increased use of antiretroviral therapy, numerous countries’ advertising standards people have ordered Rath to withdraw unsubstantiated claims, and UNAids, WHO and Unicef have condemned his misrepresentations of their nutrition and health advice…South Africa has 5 million people infected with HIV, one person in nine. Fewer than 40,000 are taking proper medication.

That’s a pretty remarkable story.

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