A South African court reserved judgment on Tuesday on an attempt by the country’s most influential AIDS activist group to block an AIDS “dissident” from labelling it a front for pharmaceutical companies.
German doctor Matthias Rath and his Rath Foundation have accused the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) - which has long fought the South African government for free anti-AIDS drugs - of being a front for drug companies eager to sell their products.
“These are liars who are defending lies as free speech,” said TAC chairman Zackie Achmat, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize last year.
“Our constitution protects free speech but not the right to lies,” he said, adding he was fairly confident of winning a court injunction that would stop Rath from disparaging the TAC.
Rath says life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs are toxic and the deadly disease can be better treated through multivitamins he sells.
His foundation has taken out newspaper advertisements and spread leaflets in poor South African townships accusing the United States, Britain, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation of a conspiracy to promote expensive medicines on behalf of a drugs cartel.
The TAC denies it has ever received money from drug companies, and says accusations like Rath’s are dangerously misleading for millions of South Africans with HIV/AIDS.
South Africa is the country hardest hit by AIDS, with one in nine of its 45 million population estimated to carry the HIV virus that causes the disease. Only about 42,000 of them are now receiving publicly funded AIDS drugs.
Judge Siraj Desai said a full bench of the court would make its ruling within “the next few weeks”.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD