Saturday 8 December 2012

We’re surrounded by liars

We’re surrounded by liars.

I don’t mean the occasional “white lie” that many of us tell to get a quiet life. No, of course that doesn’t make you look fat. Yes, of course you were right in that argument. No, I wasn’t looking at the girl, honestly!

I’m talking about the real lies, the ones crafted deliberately to deceive people, and worse still, to steal their money. Even worse, the ones that endanger our health.

A week ago I was one of many people who received an email from a company which said:
“Hello. We are introducing our product the herbal medicine against HIV/AIDS called the Babao Relife Capsules made of top quality Chinese herbs from China. The medicine helps to boost the Immune System for HIV/AIDS patients. We are a Botswana Registered Company authorized to supply herbal supplements by the Ministry of Health based in Gaborone, Botswana.

Your health comes first, we are here to give you free advice on health matters including HIV/AIDS. Keep a healthy lifes style with our effective herbals.”

Following the email was a link to the web site of the manufacturer of this “medicine”. It said that they “have good herbal therapy against diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, HIV/AIDS and stomach disease.” They claim that their capsules can make HIV “undetectable” in people who buy their products.

Where shall I begin?

Let’s start with the law. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code state very clearly that it is illegal to publish “prohibited advertisements”. These are any advertisements in “any publication, whether written, printed or oral, or by any other method whatsoever” that offer to sell any medicine for a wide range of disorders including any STD, cancer, heart disease and so on. Clearly these people are breaking this law by advertising what they call their “medicine”.

Then there’s the little fact that what they are saying simply isn’t true. Of all the countries in the world we are best placed to say, based on vast quantities of evidence, that the only effective interventions for HIV/AIDS are anti-retroviral drugs. While we have many challenges left in reducing the rate of new infections, our family members, friends and colleagues infected with HIV are now living for decades longer than they used to, just because of ARVs. Anyone who denies this is deluded, dense or demonic.

There are no herbal remedies for HIV or AIDS, there simply aren’t. If there were, the big pharmaceutical companies would have bought them all, priced them at enormously high levels and would be selling them to us right now and making enormous profits. Those cynics who think big pharma companies have a reason to resist alternatives should reflect on two facts. Firstly, most “alternative” health remedies are not produced by hippie collectives in rain forests, but by exactly the same big companies who produce conventional medicines. Secondly these companies would love to find free, easy and mass-marketable new products instead of spending billions on developing new products in labs.

Given that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that a Chinese herbal concoction can make HIV “undetectable” we can safely assume that the producers are either liars or fools.

How much does this concoction cost? They explain the price in their email. They say you need to consume “four bottles in a month. Price: BWP560.00 per bottle”. In other words the poor fool that buys this useless crap has to pay P2,240 each month for the privilege.

I think it’s safe to say that the local distributors of this nonsense are breaking the law. But what about the other thing they claim in their email, that they are “authorised to supply herbal supplements by the Ministry of Health based in Gaborone, Botswana”. That seemed easy to check. I sent the email to the Ministry for their reactions. This is what they said. It’s perfectly clear.
“The Ministry of Health has not authorized any company to supply herbal supplements.

Currently there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Even the retroviral drugs (ARVs) do not cure HIV/AIDS but suppresses the virus. The only thing that can be done to beat HIV/AIDS is behavior change and the Ministry currently has programs in place such as the Safe Male Circumcision (SMC) that aim at reducing the chances of getting HIV/AIDS.

It is regrettable that such claims may encourage patients to abandon their ART for something that is not true. This will encourage the development of resistance that may lead to high morbidity and mortality. The public is informed that all medicines, substances and solutions are regulated and registered by the Director of Health Services per the Drugs and Related Substance Act and as a Ministry we encourage the public to always buy medication from government regulated/supervised areas. These have a low chance of stocking ‘unregulated medication’.

As it stands, the claim has no substance and should be ignored.”
So the company selling these bogus products are lying. They’re lying about their products, their effects and their “authorisation” to sell them. They’re liars in almost every sense.

They’re also the most dangerous sort of liars, the type that claims to have miracle solutions to difficult problems. As my friend in the Ministry warns, the danger is that someone will abandon their real medicines, the ones that really will probably now keep them alive long enough to see their grandchildren, and they’ll end up first poor and later dead. They’re dangerous liar and cheats.

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