Dis-Chem challenged on their support of Patrick Holford

If they care, why are they promoting a quack who makes false medical claims?

In an open letter to the CEO of Dis-chem, Ivan Saltzman, published on March 25 2011, the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society and the TAC (Treatment Action Campaign) challenged Dis-Chem for their support of the self-styled “Nutrition Expert” Patrick Holford. Holford has made a career out of making unsubstantiated and false claims about the benefits of vitamins. The letter asked why his company, which is trusted by the public to provide evidence-based sound medical advice, hosted Holford.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

Mr. Ivan Saltzman
CEO, Dis-Chem Pharmacies
ivan@dischem.co.za

25 March 2011

Dear Mr. Saltzman

OPEN LETTER: WHY IS DIS-CHEM PROMOTING PATRICK HOLFORD?

It has come to our attention that between 18 February and 1 March Dis-Chem hosted the South African leg of Patrick Holford’s Feel Good Factor Roadshow.

Concerns about Mr. Holford’s credibility as a spokesperson on health issues have been raised publicly on many occasions. Here are just a few examples. Our sources are a statement by the Coalition Against Fraudulent Claims About Medicines on 1 March 2007 (http://www.tac.org.za/community/node/2168) and the website Holford Watch (www.holfordwatch.info):

  • Mr Holford wrote that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C”. This is false. At best vitamin supplementation in some groups of people might marginally slow progression from HIV infection to AIDS; the evidence is conflicting. But well conducted clinical trials show unequivocally that combination antiretroviral treatments, including AZT, restore the health of people with HIV.
  • Mr Holford claimed that it was highly likely that vitamin C would be effective against avian influenza if the dose was high enough. There is no evidence to support this claim.
  • Mr Holford claims that high-dose vitamin C and D supplementation reduces the risk of cancer. There is no evidence for this. On the contrary, a very large Cochrane review of vitamin C supplementation found no evidence of benefit.
  • As explained on Holford Watch, “Holford has actually recommended a range of healthcare modalities that do not just lack any good evidence of efficacy, but – given our current understanding of the laws of physics – lack any feasible mechanism of action. For example, he has promoted health dowsing and applied kinesiology; he has written positively about homoeopathic alternatives to vaccination and has promoted and sold theQLink pendant.”
  • Mr. Holford works for a supplement pill company called Biocare and is Chief Executive of Food for the Brain, a charity funded by a number of supplement pill companies. Given his vested interests in selling vitamin supplements his advice is unlikely to be independent and credible.
  • Mr. Holford does not have any accredited degree-level or postgraduate degree-level qualifications in nutrition. His only university qualification is a BSc in Psychology from York. This is inconsistent with him promoting himself as a highly qualified expert in the field of nutrition.

Consumers place their trust in pharmacies such as Dis-Chem to provide them with reliable healthcare recommendations and evidence-based treatments. Pharmacists are understood to be credible healthcare professionals, whose recommendations are well substantiated. Given that many people rely on pharmacies to provide them with credible healthcare advice and rigorously tested medication, it is important that pharmacies live up to these expectations.

We therefore ask you if inviting Mr Holford to speak on a Dis-Chem platform is consistent with providing evidence-based information to the clients of Dis-Chem pharmacies?

Yours Sincerely,

Professor Francois Venter (President)

Dr Moeketsi Mathe (Executive Committee member)

Dr Francesca Conradie (Executive Committee member)

Dr Graeme Meintjes (Executive Committee member)

Dr Sizake Maweya (Executive Committee member)

Dr Francesca Conradie (Executive Committee member)

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker (Executive Committee member)

Professor Yunus Moosa (Executive Committee member)

Dr Eric Hefer (Executive Committee member)

Professor Mark Cotton (Executive Committee member)

Professor Gary Maartens (Executive Committee member)

on behalf of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society

Nathan Geffen, Treasurer Treatment Action Campaign

on behalf of the Treatment Action Campaign

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