Monday, April 13, 2009

Quackery And AIDS

On a day when a lot of Christians are talking about morality, renewal, and hope, it's more than a little ironic that I should read this:

This chapter did not appear in the original edition of this book, because for fifteen months leading up to September 2008 the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was suing me personally, and the Guardian, for libel. This strategy brought only mixed success. For all that nutritionists may fantasise in public that any critic is somehow a pawn of big pharma, in private they would do well to remember that, like many my age who work in the public sector, I don’t own a flat. The Guardian generously paid for the lawyers, and in September 2008 Rath dropped his case, which had cost in excess of £500,000 to defend. Rath has paid £220,000 already, and the rest will hopefully follow. Nobody will ever repay me for the endless meetings, the time off work, or the days spent poring over tables filled with endlessly cross-referenced court documents.

Matthias Rath - steal this chapter

It was another of those nuisance lawsuits, brought by a huckster who figured he could keep his con going a little longer by suing the people who were exposing him. This isn't the tragedy, sad as it was for the author of this book, Ben Goldacre, and for his employer. The tragedy is that Goldacre was trying to expose Rath's efforts to hawk his vitamin cure to AIDS victims, particularly in South Africa.

How's that going for South Africa? Here's a summary:

In South Africa it kills 300,000 people every year: that’s eight hundred people every day, or one every two minutes. This one country has 6.3 million people who are HIV positive, including 30 per cent of all pregnant women. There are 1.2 million AIDS orphans under the age of seventeen. Most chillingly of all, this disaster has appeared suddenly, and while we were watching: in 1990, just 1 per cent of adults in South Africa were HIV positive. Ten years later, the figure had risen to 25 per cent.

Matthias Rath - steal this chapter

While this can't all be blamed on Rath, his actions helped make the situation worse. Many patients there refused or dropped legitimate AIDS treatment in favor of Rath's patent medicine. When they write up a list of people whose greed has killed countless people in this century, Matthias Rath will surely be high on that list.

Ben Goldacre has released the contents of this chapter of his book under the Creative Commons license, no doubt hoping it will go viral. I'll be copying it to an article sometime soon, but in the meantime, I suggest that you either read it over at Goldacre's site, or better yet, read it at Dana Hunter's site. She's added graphics and links that illustrate some of the things Goldacre has written.


Dana Hunter said...

Thankees for the link love!

"Patent medicine." Also an excellent description of Rath's quackery, for everyone who knows what a load o' shite patent medicine was. For those who don't, put it like this: were so-called "patent medicine" actual bullshit, we'd have enough to fertilize the world 3x over.

At least then it'd be useful...

Cujo359 said...

Yes, I suppose there are people out there who don't know what patent medicine is. I don't imagine that many are reading this blog. Come to think of it though, I do imagine that they'd be part of Rath's customer base.