Revivo tea is a dietary supplement consisting of a range of herbs. It is marketed worldwide, but intensively so in South Africa, where HIV and AIDS are endemic. On their websites Revivo made several expansive claims:
- “we have developed Revivo based on extensive research into effective herbs for HIV, as well as the ancient wisdom of Chinese Herbal Medicine, which has been treating HIV and AIDS successfully even before HIV and AIDS was recognised”;
- “it is the culmination of only the best methods of herbal supplementation for HIV and the ingredients of the formula acting synergistically have proved itself to be better than any of the herbs taken individually”;
- “…herbs in Revivo are designed to stop this hidden heat and replenish what is already consumed, that is why so many people are benefitting from using Revivo, irrespective of what stage of HIV they are in”;
- “…upon contact 5 of the herbs almost completely destroyed the virus and 6 others had significant activity against the virus.”
Reading these claims, one cannot escape the conclusion that what is being claimed is that Revivo tea is a treatment for HIV and AIDS.
Making misleading or unsubstantiated claims is illegal in South Africa, as well as in many other jurisdictions. A complaint was laid with the South African Advertising Standards Authority, stating that the claims made on behalf of Revivo were both unsubstantiated and misleading. The ASA upheld the complaint and ordered that the websites be taken down.
But is this enough? Revivo are still permitted to market their product, and are doing so through their own in-house website, with the offending claims removed. The new website explicitly denies that Revivo is a cure or treatment for HIV. But the impression that their product is an effective treatment for AIDS still lingers, even though the offending websites are no longer accessible. Surely it would be better at the very least to order Revivo to withdraw their product from the market? If they wish to continue marketing it, they should be forced to rebrand it entirely, so there would be no perceived connection between the new product and Revivo. Perhaps a substantial fine should be levied as well, as a disincentive to others who may think of cashing in on the misfortune of others.
Sophisticated Westerners are often taken in by this kind of advertising, despite such obvious red flags as misspellings, apparent ignorance of the convention for rendering biological names (Zizyphus jojoba given as Zizyphus Jojoba), the appeal to the superiority of “ancient Chinese wisdom” (why should ancient wisdom be superior to modern wisdom, or Chinese wisdom superior to, say, Eskimo wisdom). Most of the Africans suffering from HIV infection are not sophisticated. They are poor, inadequately educated, and desperate enough to believe anything, to clutch at any straw that may give them hope. Even if Revivo does no harm in itself, gullible people may believe that by taking it they are treating their condition and they will not seek out efficacious conventional treatments such as anti-retroviral drugs, which are obtainable free of charge through government clinics.
For laws to be effective they must be effectively enforced. This sort of misrepresentation is not harmless and should be countered by real penalties that will be a deterrent to other snake oil salesmen who may be tempted by the lure of a quick buck at the expense of the weak and uninformed.
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.