AFP 20 Aug. 2000

Kampala -- Dissident scientists who doubt that the HIV virus causes AIDS will hold an international AIDS conference in Uganda beginning August 28 to discuss alternative views on the origins of the pandemic, conference organisers said Sunday.

The dissidents question the validity of methods used in HIV testing and the usefulness of anti-retrovirals in treating victims.

In April, South African President Thabo Mbeki generated controversy when he set up an advisory panel on AIDS which included dissident scientists who deny links between the virus and the disease, asserting that the real causes of lack of resistance against AIDS are related to under-development, poverty, poor hygiene and local diseases.

Mbeki has since sought to downplay the controversy by welcoming traditional scientific views.

The four-day conference, which will be attended by sociologists, is entitled: "Making Sense: Alternative Views on the Origins and Causes of AIDS in Africa," and will be held at the Roman Catholic Uganda Martyrs University in Nkozi, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of the capital, Kampala. A statement from the organisers said the conference will be coordinated by the University's Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Kanyandago, along with doctors Rosalind Harrison-Chirimuuta and Kevin Corbett from Britain. The Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) has expressed strong reservations about the event, but stopped short of saying it would try to prevent the conference from getting underway.

UAC Commissioner General Kihumuro Apuuli warned that such activities could derail ongoing efforts to fight AIDS, and ultimately lead to more deaths in a country where more than 1.5 million people are believed to carry the HIV virus.

The disease has killed some 500,000 people in Uganda. "This is a serious matter and we have a problem here. It can be proved in the laboratory that HIV causes AIDS, but these people are saying that it is caused by something else," Apuuli said.

Uganda's Aids Control Programme, which creates awareness to prevent the spreading of AIDS, has been hailed as an international success after HIV infection rates halved between 1992 to 1996.

The government has launched a strategy to further promote awareness, encouraging door-to-door voluntary testing for HIV.