Diagnostic tools or fakes?

2011-10-29 00:00

CONTROVERSIAL “medical diagnosis” machines — banned or regulated elsewhere in the world — are being widely used in South Africa by therapists without medical qualifications thanks to a regulatory loophole.

Only electric devices require licensing by the Health Department. But regulations in the pipeline will require any device used for diagnosis or treatment, even condoms, to be regulated. It will also crack down on misleading advertising related to devices.

Penalties include a fine and prison sentences of up to five years.

Terry Downes, the Department of Health’s deputy director for health technology, said the new regulations would ultimately be enforced by a replacement of the Medicines Control Council, which will have a designated division for medical devices.

Several local alternative health practitioners claim on their websites they can diagnose and treat serious conditions with machines, even though it is illegal in South Africa to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment without a medical qualification or being registered with the Health Professions Council. Prices for such treatments vary from R170 to R500 or more per session — comparable to GP — and specialist rates.

Among the most common alternative machine-aided therapies are:

• “Live blood analysis”, where blood is drawn, magnified and displayed on a screen. Nutritional deficiences and other conditions are identified by the blood cells’ appearance

• Rife resonator, which sends electro-magnetic frequencies through the body with electrodes

• Scio, or “Scientific Consciousness Interface Operation”, where low-level energy waves are transmitted through your body to diagnose and treat imbalances

• Bemer therapy, applying electro-magnetic waves with electrodes — the manufacturer is an official supplier to the Swiss Olympic team.

Rife resonators and Bemer machines are also offered for sale online.

The USA’s Food and Drug Agency (FDA) banned the import of one incarnation of the Scio machine, called the EPFX, in 2008 due to fraudulent claims and practitioners taking advantage of desperate patients. Therapists using Rife resonators to “cure” cancer and other terminal conditions have also been prosecuted in the U.S..

In 2009, live blood analysis as a basis for prescribing nutritional supplements came under fire from health authorities in Malaysia.

Stellenbosch University’s head of haematology, Professor Akin Abayomi, said there is “no evidence that you can determine anything by this technique”. Some local websites claim it can even spot early signs of cancer.

Medical researcher Dr Dawie van Velden said alternative therapies “do have a placebo effect to a degree”.

“We don’t oppose it entirely, as long as it’s not harmful and doesn’t exploit patients. The problem is where therapists charge astronomical prices and miss diagnoses.”

Dr Bernard Brom, chair of the South African Society for Integrative Medicine, said ideally data from such devices needed to be analysed by people with proper medical training.

“I don’t believe that a person without proper medical training should be treating serious medical conditions.

Consumer activist Dr Harris Steinman said such therapies are “not only a waste of money, they may result in individuals getting the wrong diagnoses or being peddled products that they do not need”.

The Quantum Alliance South Africa, a broker for therapists using Scio machines, said its affiliates are “not qualified to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical or psychological condition, disease, or disorder”, and that its devices were designed for “stress detection and stress reduction”.

• investigations@media24.com

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