President Mbeki Live from the Union Buildings

By Debra Patta

eTV "On the Record" 24 April 2001

Debra Patta: President Mbeki, HIV/AIDS has dominated the headlines in South Africa for the last two years and bit before that as well, let’s bring this down to the personal level – would you take an HIV/AIDS test?

Mbeki: Sitting where I sit as the president of South Africa, I think that the challenge I face is to have all outstanding questions with regard to this matter answered so that we are then able to respond as effectively as possible to the AIDS challenge. So the matter of whether I take an HIV test or not I think is irrelevant to the matter. It might be dramatic, and make newspaper headlines…

Interrupting Patta: But would it not set an example – the president takes an AIDS test?

Mbeki: No, but it would be setting an example within the context of a particular paradigm.What I am saying is that on the fifth of February this year - the US government issued new guidelines about the use of antiretroviral radically different from what had been the practice before – and they themselves - the US government and all the scientists who did this - say we are issuing these new guidelines based on our experience and because there are many unanswered questions. So they change the guidelines – which is fine. But what they are raising fundamentally is that science does not have enough answers to deal with this question.

So what I am saying is that is why we set up the AIDS panel to bring all of the scientist from across the world, all different points of view – scientific points of view – to say we are not scientists can you help us to answer these questions? That’s the critical matter so that we are then able to deal more effectively with AIDS which is a reality which is a very serious problem.

Now I don’t believe that stunts - publicity stunts - help in addressing the health needs of our people. I would think it would be – well – a criminal dereliction of duty if our government didn’t say: how do we cope with issues of the toxicity of these drugs which is raised very sharply by these US government guidelines on the fifth of February - and they say the levels of toxicity of these drugs are such that we’ve got to introduce these drugs later in the incidence of the disease because you have these toxicities – and they even say that there are even OTHER unknown toxicities which we know happen.

So, do I go down the street dispensing these pills knowing from the best science there is that there are these consequences which science itself says we don’t know enough. No. So I think no stunts (Patta overlap: So antiretroviral…) please, no stunts. (Patta overlapping: Okay). Let’s stop politicising this question. Lets deal with the science of it. The panel said one of things we have got to do is to determine when you do an HIV test what is the test testing. And those were the scientists: what is it measuring. So I go and do a test I’m confirming a particular paradigm. It doesn’t help in addressing this health need. Our focus must be how do we improve the health of our people and that is what we are focused on.

Patta: Well, what is the next step then?

Mbeki: I am very keen that this panel should do these scientific experiments itself that on its own it decided it must do to empower us to respond better to this crisis.