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‘Professionals are flogging unregistered HIV remedies’

Resource type: News

Cape Times (South Africa) |

The University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Treatment Action Campaign are Atlantic grantees.

by Sonya Bell

Sales of unregistered medicines to HIV patients are being made by medical professionals, according to academics, activists and medical practitioners across the country.

“This is a problem and I think it is widespread – health workers of all types are not selling only to health care centres and hospices, but also selling individually to patients,” said Professor Anna Coutsoudis, from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“These ‘quacks’ are abusing patients in an effort to make money and are causing havoc. The government needs to step in.”

Nuzuko Majola, deputy director of the Aids Foundation of South Africa, says numerous organisations have reported hearing of medical professionals coaching patients to take vitamins or herbal remedies as an alternative to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

She said this had been going on for “a long time”.

“You find that even nurses in the hospitals and clinics, if you test positive, they’ll recommend vitamins and herbal medicines,” Majola said.

“Nurses at the clinics are saying, ‘If you want something to help, I’m selling’ or ‘Go to see so-and-so’.”

But the practice is going unreported to the authorities, with few people on the ground believing they have the evidence to make a complaint.

In Johannesburg, Dr Thabile Vezi, of Right to Care, said she had stopped referring patients to a doctor in that city after learning that two of them had been discouraged from taking ARVs and offered a type of medicine that could not be identified. But she has not reported this to the Department of Health.

“Patients told us doctors are doing this, but we have no proof.”

A doctor working in clinics in Khayelitsha reports that he has heard of aloe vera being sold as an immune booster by health staff – although he has not witnessed this being done.

Although these reports are not being passed on, officials at a higher level also claim the waters are murky.

Virginia Azevedo, head of city health for Khayelitsha, said she had heard similar reports from Treatment Action Campaign workers about aloe vera sales. But she had no proof or indication that the reports were true.

“If it happens, it happens under the radar,” said Azevedo.

“It’s certainly not something we would allow to happen.”

The market for unregistered medicines in South Africa continues to thrive as misconceptions about Aids and its treatment persist and the supply of ARVs by certain provincial health services runs short.

The market also thrives in the open, with HIV/Aids organisations regularly being invited to workshops around Durban that promote Ubejane, for example.

Dolly Ngcongo, of Zimisele Health Club, which provides home-based care for HIV patients in Umlazi, Durban, said: “We don’t recommend or condemn it because we don’t know that much.”

Ngcongo said all the venues chosen for the workshops on Ubejane were on public transport routes in Durban, so it was easy for the public to attend.


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South Africa


AIDS, ARV, HIV, TAC, Treatment Action Campaign, University of KwaZulu-Natal