AP 1 Nov. 1999

JOHANNESBURG - President Thabo Mbeki's remarks that an anti-AIDS medicine was unsafe were based on information he got from the Internet, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Mbeki said on Thursday that AZT, a drug widely used to prevent infections to medical workers and rape victims and to control mother-to child transmission, was toxic and being challenged by court cases in the United States, Britain and South Africa.

The manufacturer, Glaxo Wellcome, on Sunday repeated earlier statements that there were no court cases, and that the drug was fully licensed under South African, American and other law. It has asked South Africa's Medicines Control Council for clarification.

"We have never been made aware by MCC that there are any safety issues around the drug,'' Dr. Peter Moore, the company's medical director, was quoted as saying in the Sunday Independent in Johannesburg.

Mbeki has a "thick set of documents'' about the dangers of AZT from the Internet, his media liaison officer, Tasneem Carrim, told the newspaper. Mbeki's spokesman Parks Mankahlana said a statement would be issued Monday.

"The president goes into the Net all the time,'' Carrim was quoted as saying.

With soaring rape rapes and HIV infection rates among the highest in the world, the South African government is under pressure to provide AZT for rape victims and pregnant mothers. It says the drug is too expensive.

Moore said in Sunday's statement that the company is worried Mbeki's speech could cause patients currently using the drug to stop.

"It appears that the President has been gravely misinformed about the safety aspects of AZT,'' Moore said.

In the same speech, Mbeki dismissed claims that 1.8 million rapes occur in South Africa each year. He said the figure was based on police estimates that only one rape out of 36 was reported, but the police had no idea how the figure was reached.

The Sunday Independent in Johannesburg blasted Mbeki for the speech: "For a leader who has shown such statesmanship in the vital task of making Africa a prosperous continent, it is surprising that President Thabo Mbeki has not shown the same dedication to the most injured citizens in our own country.''