Consumer Health Digest #08-42

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 14, 2008


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.


South African Government acknowledges that AIDS is an HIV infection. At the International HIV Vaccine Research Conference, South Africa’s new Health Minister, Barbara Hogan, said it was unquestionable that HIV causes AIDS and should be treated with proven medications. Her announcement marked the official end to ten years of denial by former President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister Manti Tshabalala-Msimang. Thanks in part to their foolishness, South Africa now has 5.4 million people infected with HIV, the most of any country. Hogan also commended the efforts of the scientific, medical and activists communities; recognised the depth and severity of the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa; and committed her Government to achieving the targets of the National Strategic Plan. [Warlick A. Health Minister Barbara Hogan delivers landmark speech at HIV Vaccine Conference. Treatment Action Campaign Web site, Oct 16, 2008]

Hogan also praised the Cape High Court's recent judgment against AIDS denialist Matthias Rath. In 2005, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the South African Medical Association had asked the court to order the health minister to stop Rath's experiments on humans, distribution of unregistered medicines, and false advertising claims that his VitaCell supplements would reverse the course of AIDS. [TAC and SAMA versus Matthias Rath and the Government of South Africa. TAC Web site, March 11, 2008] In June 2008, the court ordered Rath to stop marketing his supplements and conducting what amounted to illegal clinical trials without government authorization. [Cape High Court interdicts Matthias Rath and orders Government to investigate him and stop breaches of the Medicines Act. TAC Web site, June 13, 2008]

In a parallel development, Rath dropped a libel suit against the British Guardian and columnist Dr. Ben Goldacre and was ordered to pay costs amounting to several hundred thousand dollars. [Boseley S. Fall of the doctor who said his vitamins would cure AIDS. The Guardian, Sept 13, 2008] The suit involved three newspaper articles that condemned Rath's promotional activities (including allegedly unethical clinical trials) among AIDS sufferers in South African townships. GuardianFilms has issued an extraordinary report describing how several infected individuals died soon after they switched from standard HIV drugs to Rath's pills. [Matthias Rath: The human cost: How vitamin entrepreneur Matthias Rath persuaded South African Aids patients to stop taking their prescribed drugs - and use his vitamins - with terrible consequences. GuardianFilms, Sept 12, 2008]


FTC hits major spam network. A U.S. district court has ordered a halt to the operations of a vast international spam network that peddled prescription drugs and bogus male-enhancement products. The operators include Lance Atkinson, a New Zealand citizen living in Australia; Jody Smith of Texas; and four companies they control: Inet Ventures Pty Ltd., Tango Pay Inc., Click Fusion Inc., and TwoBucks Trading Limited. The FTC has received more than three million complaints about messages connected to this operation and estimates that it may be responsible for sending billions of illegal spam messages [FTC shuts down, freezes assets of vast international spam e-mail network. FTC news release, Oct 14, 2008] The anti-spam organization Spamhaus has identified the network the largest “spam gang” in the world. Some security researchers believe that at one time, nearly one-third of the world’s spam e-mail came from a network of compromised computers (a "botnet") that promoted the defendants’ Web sites. At the FTC's request, the court has issued a temporary injunction prohibiting defendants from spamming and making false product claims, and has frozen their assets. Authorities in New Zealand also have taken legal action. The products included VXPL (an alleged penis-enhancer), a hoodia product (claimed to produce weight loss of up to six pounds a week), and various drugs shipped from India but claimed to be FDA-approved generic drugs. In June 2005, the FTC obtained a $2.2 million judgment against Atkinson and another business partner for running a similar spam affiliate program that marketed herbal products. [Court orders permanent halt to illegal spamming, bogus claims: Orders Australian defendants to pay $2.2 million. FTC news release, Sept 25, 2005]


Maryland bans Don Lapre from selling business opportunities. The Maryland Department of Securities banned Lapre and The Greatest Vitamin in the World, LLC from continuing to do business in Maryland. The cease-and-desist order states that the company was not registered to sell business opportunities and had failed to provide refunds to dissatisfied customers as promised. Quackwatch has a comprehensive report on Lapre's activities.


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This page was revised on October 17, 2008.