In early September, residents of several Latvian municipalities received colorful leaflets in their mailboxes with stories such as:
"At my daughter's funeral I was even glad I had poor eyesight as the groom stabbed her with scissors, directly into her chest. Her daughter had two children from her first marriage. (..) But I started using your natural supplements so that at least I could see my grandchildren better. We rarely see each other, so every meeting is important and I want to memorize its details. However, due to shortsightedness and retinal dystrophy, the objects were blurred. The lines were curved and I couldn't see anything at all on the periphery and nearby. But after using your preparations, my vision has improved so much that I don't even wear glasses."
That is supposedly the experience of some Felix from Austria. On the front page of the leaflet there is a logo that reads “WellMed Club”.
The miracle preparations marketed by the company are supplements that have been attributed a variety of surprising properties. They supposedly treat incontinence, fungus, back pain, and vision problems, hearing problems, and potency problems. Moreover, preparations do not need to be searched for – the brochure also advertises face-to-face consultations in several cities. Including Salaspils in the municipal library. Latvijas Radio also attended the event in person.
The consultation takes place on the second floor of the Salaspils Library. Some 20 people have already arrived, mostly seniors.
Four men have come to “advise” the public, in white shirts. But three of them do not speak Latvian, only Russian and Lithuanian. So an interpreter has come with them, who seemingly knows nothing about the production. The presentation of the products is very brief, and the gentlemen are quick to say that the company has been operating for 15 years and all natural products are licensed.
After a very brief introduction, those gathered split into groups. One group goes to Vitaly, who is tasked with advising and finding the right preparation for the problem in question. But at the other end of the room, the other gentlemen sit down. Vladislav, on Vitaly's prescription, writes out a voucher with the necessary preparation and the amount the customer must pay. But the third man accepts payment and distributes products.
Some immediately rush to the pay table and purchase supplements. Prices vary from tens to hundreds.
Meanwhile, Latvian Radio talks to people who are still waiting in line for a consultation with Vitaly.
The story is similar to all of them – they first learned about the “WellMed Club” and its distributed preparations from the leaflet found in the mailbox. Everyone has gone to doctors too, but so far the problem has not been fully solved. The health problems of those gathered vary – some have back pain, some have foot fungus, others have vision problems.
Latvijas Radio also decides to receive advice – the back has been hurting for years, but physiotherapy and medicine do not work. Vitaly prescribes a particularly high dose of four bottles of preparation. It is said to be a monthly dose and is recommended for one to four months. This dose would cost Latvian Radio 84 euros. A “prescription” is issued that is written on a battered scrap paper.
In approximately 40 minutes spent by Latvian Radio in the consultation, more than ten persons purchased supplements – all at retirement age. Some went home empty-handed.
Information collected by Latvian Radio indicates several issues. Firstly, there are already violations of the law in advertising, for example, they do not indicate that food supplements are advertised and do not replace a full diet. Sanita Gertmane, spokeswoman for the Consumer Rights Protection Centre (PTAC), also confirms this.
"The second feature is the information provided on the health effects of the product. It's likely misleading. Unauthorized indications are used that the preparations treat diseases and are medications. These are just dietary supplements. These are not medications. It's not a cure," said the PTAC spokeswoman.
Latvian Radio wondered why such traders are allowed into their premises by local government libraries in Jelgava and Salaspils.
“By nature, it's a company. It is registered in the Enterprise Register. We can verify that. But we can't check every company that wants to rent the premises. It should be done by some other institution,” explained Daiga Orbidāne, director of Salaspils Library.
Latvijas Radio also gets a similar answer in Jelgava. In addition, several residents have complained in both libraries after “consultation.” They suspect the company may be engaged in fraud. Consequently, both libraries terminated the contract with the company and such consultations will not take place there again.
The two institutions did not enter into a contract with WellMed Club, but with EuroFitoFarm, which distributes those preparations. It is true that it is registered in Latvia. However, an examination of the Food and Veterinary Service's Register of Food Supplements shows that only three food supplements have been registered in Latvia, however, more are sold in consultations. The preparation prescribed to the Latvian Radio journalist for back pain is also not found in the Register.
Anna Gavrilova, a pharmacology professor at Rīga Stradiņš University, stresses that there is nothing known about unregistered preparations, therefore there is no possibility to check whether they are safe for use at all.
“It's not like we can create any product and give it qualities that we read in public literature or heard somewhere. No, it is strictly regulated, which can be indicated by food supplements registered in Europe. So there is no way these products can be used for treatment,” said Gavrilova.
Latvijas Radio found that in the specific consultations the products of the Ukrainian company “StandartFarm” registered in Estonia are also sold. This is how Latvian Radio finds five other preparations registered in Latvia. However, the supplement prescribed to the Latvijas Radio journalist is not visible among them either.
What's more, it's not just about the lack of therapeutic properties, it's also about potential health harm, says family doctor Linda Reitzle, whose practice has seen several cases of people taking different preparations on their own accord.
“The health risks are very serious. I would like to stress that both young and old have had various disorders, both liver and kidney disorders. One big category is sports supplements. And the other group are people who have had some remedies like liver cleanser or a blood cleanser,” said Reitzle.
She stresses that no special purifiers are needed for liver or blood. And any medication you take should be consulted with your doctor.
The PTAC explains to Latvian Radio that there is currently no complaint regarding the particular merchant, but inspectors will pay attention to these traders. At the same time, PTAC invites residents to report if they have seen violations in the activities of merchants.