Jeremy Laurance: The fight against diseases from malaria to typhoid is harmed by snake-oil pushers

There have been many snake oil salesmen purveying cures for Aids but to find their activities backed by UK charities may be a first.

Did the charities know what was being done in their name? Or did they hand over the cash and leave others to decide how to spend it?

The harm done when alternative medicine is used as a defence against serious diseases such as Aids is well documented.

Remember the former South African Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who became known as Dr Beetroot?

She advocated "natural" treatments for HIV based on beetroot, wild garlic and the African potato.

Together with Thabo Mbeki, the former president, she was chiefly responsible for the African National Congress government delaying for years the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs to patients with HIV and Aids.

While Mr Mbeki publicly questioned the link between the virus and the disease, Dr Beetroot, who died in 2009, advised patients the cure lay in the cooking pot. Their policies, according to a Harvard University study, cost the lives of more than 300,000 people.

In the UK, alternative practitioners have put forward homoeopathic remedies as an effective preventive against malaria, typhoid, dengue fever and yellow fever. The Hospital for Tropical Diseases has seen the results – people who thought they were protected against malaria but later contracted the disease and ended up on its wards, seriously sick.

Homoeopathic remedies are no physical defence against the viruses, bacteria and parasites that cause life-threatening disease.

The promotion of alternative medicine in this context, as a substitute for proven orthodox treatments such as anti-retroviral drugs for HIV, is indefensible.

Donations to the charities involved should cease – until they can show us they approve of the uses to which our cash is being put.