Midweek Cuckoo: Tine van der Maas
Tine came to the attention of the South African public two years ago when she gained the ear of our Minister of Health, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Tine is convinced that her diet (consisting of garlic, ginger, olive oil, beetroot, lemon juice, spinach and african potatoes, plus various vitamin supplements all whizzed together) is a miracle cure that restores the immune system. Manto, herself a qualified medical doctor, has stated she has seen more than 100 AIDS patients "who have got up and walked" after going on the diet. She even gave Tine access to patients in hospitals around the country, to administer her as-yet-untested treatment to the desperately ill. However, no documentation of these 'trials' is available from any relevant institute or department. A search of PubMed returns no papers with Tine as author.
What reason does Tine give for there being no record of her patients? A burglar broke in and peed on all of them. All the records, for supposedly 40,000 people. That's one determined burglar, with one very large bladder.
So is it possible that patients can undergo a miraculous recovery after consuming what sounds like the most vile smoothie ever? In South Africa, it can certainly appear to be so. The issue at hand is that the majority of HIV and AIDS sufferers are also chronically malnourished. Even the tiniest increase in their nutrition can result in a seemingly incredible improvement in their condition, with many patients indeed getting up and walking. This means nothing: it can be seen with any improvement in nutrition, not just Tine's diet, and it has absolutely no effect on the progression of the disease. It is a temporary fix that makes the patient feel better for a while but ultimately does not change their diagnosis or their death sentence.
And yet Tine claims that her diet is all that is required for a healthy immune system, and is as good as ARVs. Well, except in one case: she has said, "I am not against antiretrovirals. If I were raped I would still go for nevirapine - but I'd also eat four carrots." Tine also believes that if you never hear from your patients again, it's a good thing because it means they are ok. If there's a problem, they'll phone. She doesn't seem to entertain the option that they might not phone because they're dead. Oh, and Tine also uses her diet for people with epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, depression, asthma, ulcers, cataracts, high cholesterol and glandular fever.
Qualified nutritionists are dismissing her theories as bunk, yet our Minister of Health continues to defend her. So much so that she has now contributed, IMHO, to the deaths of two prominent figures in SA:
- Yfm DJ Fana 'Khabzela' Khaba - Manto sent Tine to his house to take care of him and adminster her diet to him personally, when Khaba refused to take ARVs because he believed they would kill him. The Minister had an opportunity to persuade him to go on ARVs, and instead she sent him Tine and her garlic and olive oil concoction. He died, only 8 months after he was diagnosed.
- Nozipho Benghu, daughter of KZN MP Ruth Benghu - Nozipho was one of Tine's most vocal supporters, and a follower of her diet. According to Nozipho, "It works, I'm the scietific proof." She died last week, and the Treatment Action Campaign called her death both unnecessary and premature.
These aren't poor, rural people, uneducated, easily swayed by those in power or unable to afford ARVs. These are wealthy, educated, upper class people who could easily have lived many years longer than they did. There is absolutely no excuse for deceiving these people into thinking that diet can prolong their lives, when they are infected with a rampant virus for which there is no known effective treatment except antiretrovirals, and for which there certainly is no cure.
How is it that someone with this obvious a fakery can bend the ear of our topmost health officials? Well, you only have to look at the officials themselves. Manto aside, KZN Health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni recently stated that people needed to be aware of unscrupulous individuals who manufactured certain viruses to infect communities so that pharmaceutical companies could benefit. She said this at Nozipho Benghu's funeral, standing over the grave of a woman who died because she and they couldn't see these theories for the bullshit they are. Tine van der Maas and her friends will always find a place in South Africa, as long as this kind of thinking prevails amongst our policymakers and politicians.