Bad Science — Medical Misrepresentation Moves to Murder

For my paper 2 I want to discuss the spread of disease in underdeveloped countries, and the struggle to provide the correct medicine. I found a book called Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. The book aims to reveal the misrepresentation of medical science in medicine in various instances around the globe and time.

Goldacre reveals how Matthias Rash took advantage of a vulnerable and sick South Africa for profit

Goldacre reveals how Matthias Rash took advantage of a vulnerable and sick South Africa for profit

This particular chapter was added years later to the book about AIDS and Matthias Rash because Goldacre was being sued by Rash.

Deadly diseases such as AIDS have spread throughout different nations across the globe. Each situation is different, that is, a different government, culture, disease, and help.  These problems with disease really lay the groundwork to evaluate the price of a human life, and in the past actors in these areas of disease have made these decisions.

In the case of Matthias Rath in South Africa, a man embodied the subjugation of the sick for profit. An unstable region, confused culturally & economically is often a place where help must be provided locally and abroad. Yet, Matthias Rath took advantage of this “sickly” region and looked to make an unethical profit.

With the spread of the AIDS virus in the 1990’s, South Africa found itself as sick and shambled nation. Brutally vulnerable through centuries of cultural confusion from the white man left a nation with a corrupt government and an unequal society. The disease was exponentially growing in numbers, thus justifying it as a real epidemic. Natives to the area were routed in old culture, leaving them skeptical of the modern medicine. Westerners brought in what are called anti-retroviral drugs which are aimed to hinder the progression of the HIV virus generally accepted as the precursor to the AIDS virus. Many native South Africans blamed the white man for the disease (rightfully so, most likely), and were perturbed by this western invasion of medicine.

Rash had established himself in Europe and America as a reputable man of business in pharmaceuticals. He had developed his own treatment of AIDS, and although no scientific proof that it actually helped patients, looked to spread throughout S. Africa for his own financial gain. He was able to get the support of the government as well,

“Tragically, Matthias Rath had taken these ideas to exactly the right place. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa at the time, was well known as an ‘AIDS dissident’, and to international horror, while people died at the rate of one every two minutes in his country, he gave credence and support to the claims of a small band of campaigners who variously claim that AIDS does not exist, that it is not caused by HIV, that anti-retroviral medication does more harm than good, and so on…”

He also used propaganda and advertising to not only promote the benefits of his new cure, but bashed the existing anti-retrovirals as well,

‘The answer to the AIDS epidemic is here,’ he proclaimed. Anti-retroviral drugs were poisonous, and a conspiracy to kill patients and make money. ‘Stop AIDS Genocide by the Drugs Cartel’ said one headline. ‘Why should South Africans continue to be poisoned with AZT? There is a natural answer to AIDS. The answer came in the form of vitamin pills. ‘Multivitamin treatment is more effective than any toxic AIDS drug…”

Once his new multivitamins got a grasp in this market, Rath aimed to deflect any competition that would come his way. Statistics proving that his multivitamins were no more effective than anti-retrovirals were skewed to be meaningless, and he Treatment Action Campaign, which stalled a great stride towards a solution for this disease ridden region.

The AIDS movement in South Africa provided a vulnerable market where Rath could install his wrath. The “AIDS dissidents” social and governmental views played into his alternate therapy medication, and was quite successful. I am not trying to refute the fact that all ethics aside, it was a great way to make money. But, the ethical implications are maddening. Although research supports anti-retrovirals and the connection of HIV with AIDS, Rath chose to further put a veil over this population and play into their cultural belief against white medicine. He had the support of the native government, as well as people of medicine in the native communities. Propaganda and advertisements riddled the streets. All of his efforts left more people without better medicine, thus further spiraling the AIDS epidemic faster in that region, while Rash reaped the profits.


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