Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 17 Sept 2000

Kampala -- Delegates at a controversial AIDS conference in Uganda have called for the suspension of HIV testing and an immediate halt to the provision of anti-retroviral drugs to HIV positive pregnant and breast feeding women.

The conference, held earlier this month at Uganda's Roman Catholic Nkozi Martyrs University, near the capital city Kampala, brought together about 60 "dissident" scientists from Africa, Britain and the United States who debated and discussed what they called a "holistic approach to fighting AIDS".

The dissidents say the real causes of lack of resistance against AIDS are related to under-development, poverty, poor hygiene and local diseases. They argue that there is no scientific proof that HIV causes AIDS.

The Ugandan government, which believes that HIV causes AIDS, has had its AIDS Control Programme hailed as an international success after HIV infection rates halved in the country between 1992 and 1996.

The United Nations says that 24,5 million people in Africa are infected with AIDS, more than 70% of the world total.

Delegates at the conference have recommended that HIV testing should be suspended because the HI virus had not been isolated and purified and there was "no gold standard" for HIV tests.

They said AIDS diagnosis varied across the world and a person who was HIV positive in one country could be HIV negative in another.

The delegates said the universal promotion of condom use could negatively impact on "our understanding of ourselves, our identity and all our human relationships" and undermined interpersonal trust.

Delegates said immune deficiency prevention must address its many causes in Africa. This would include the cancellation of "crippling" debt repayments, the establishment of "equitable" economic relationships with wealthy countries, improvements in nutrition and the development of social and medical infrastructure, with an emphasis on clean water and sanitation.

This would go hand-in-hand with pollution control and the control of major epidemic diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis.

There was "overwhelming" evidence that bottle feeding in poor countries caused death and that anti-retroviral drugs had toxic effects. Delegates said exclusive breast feeding should be encouraged.

"The treatment emphasis for AIDS must be shifted from the provision of expensive and toxic anti-retroviral drugs to tried and tested interventions," the delegates said. They did not elaborate on what these interventions were.