MAINSTREAM, DISSIDENT SCIENTISTS,
FAIL TO AGREE ON AIDS
Agence France Presse 7 May 2000
Mainstream and dissident scientists who met in Pretoria over the weekend to
seek new solutions to AIDS failed to agree, several participants said Sunday.
The debate, held behind closed doors, became heated at times, the organisers
The scientists met at the invitation of South African President Thabo Mbeki,
anxious to find new approaches to a disease ravaging Africa, but who has been
roundly criticised at home and abroad for giving the dissidents a platform.
The mainstream scientists defended the thesis, held by the overwhelming
majority of the world's medical community, that AIDS is caused by the HIV
virus. The "revisionists" deny the link, arguing that AIDS in Third World
countries is a result of such factors as poor hygiene and malnutrition.
The only tangible result of the twoday conference was the establishment of a
committee of four participants, two from each camp, who will devise experiments
and pose questions to be answered.
Its members are, on the "orthodox" side, Malegapuru Makgoba, the head of
South Africa's Medical Research Council, and Helen Gayle, of the US Centers for
Disease Control; the "dissidents" are Californian biologist Peter Duesberg and
Harvey Bialy, of Mexico.
French scientist Luc Montagnier, who discovered the HIV virus, told AFP he
believed the committee had been established to calm things down.
But South African Health Minister Manto TshabalalaMsimang told a final press
conference that the fact that the conference had been held at all was
"It's the first time that a group of such eminent scientists in the field of
HIV/AIDS have met in one group to deliberate, exchange views to assist the
South Africans to the formulation of a national response to the catastrophe,"
Mbeki declared when he opened the conference on Saturday that the search for
solutions could not be based on what some considered "biblical absolute truth."
"We look for an answer because all the information that has been
communicated is in reality that we are faced with a catastrophe," he said.
"We can't respond to a catastrophe only by saying 'I will do what is
Mbeki said he had been surprised by the uproar about his quest to have the
causes of AIDS reviewed, adding that criticism by eminent scientists had at
times made it difficult for him to think he was not a fool.
"But I'm no longer so sure about that, given that so many eminent people
responded to the invitation of 'a fool' to come to this important meeting," he
The press and political opposition here have likened Mbeki's flirtation with
the dissident theories to listening to "flatearthists," and the opposition
Democratic Party declared the panel would find no fresh answers because the
dissidents would drag the debate back to square one.
Mbeki pointed out that of the 5.6 million people who contracted HIV last
year, 3.8 million lived in subSaharan Africa.
In South Africa alone, 4.2 million people more than one in 10 were
HIVpositive at the end of 1999, according to government figures.
"As Africans we want to respond to HIV/AIDS in a manner that is effective,"
The 33 scientists from 14 countries will continue discussions by Internet
for six to eight weeks, then meet again in South Africa shortly before the 13th
world conference on AIDS opens on July 7 in Durban, on South Africa's Indian