By Adrian Lackay

News24 6 April 2002

Johannesburg -- President Thabo Mbeki on Friday launched a scathing attack on AIDS lobbyists who conduct "propaganda attacks" against the state about the causes of deaths among black people.

Without mentioning Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) by name and without specifically referring to the court ruling, Mbeki in his weekly letter in ANC Today writes about "some in our society" who wanted to impose the view that HIV/AIDS and "complex antiretroviral drugs such as nevirapine" were the only health matters of concern for black people.

"There is a determined and aggressive attempt to hide the truth about the direct and immediate relationship between poverty and health? We will not be intimidated, terrorised, bludgeoned, manipulated, stampeded, or in any other way forced to adopt policies and programmes inimical to the health of our people.

"That we are poor and black does not mean that we cannot think for ourselves and determine what is good for us. Neither does it mean that we are available to be bought, whatever the price," Mbeki writes.

Link between poverty and disease

He also touches on the debate on the link between poverty and disease, and accuses those critical of government of devoting "huge resources" to single out HIV/AIDS, while there is "virtually no discussion in our country about the diseases of poverty that regularly claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of our people".

"Some individuals engaged in politics and public health have achieved public prominence on the basis of leading an extremely harmful and unacceptable campaign to deny our people all information and knowledge about the incidence of diseases of poverty in our country.

"We are told that we must accept the harm these persons cause, and their insult of an entire people, as the very essence of (the right of) free democratic expression," writes Mbeki with an apparent referral to the TAC campaign to make available nevirapine to pregnant HIV-positive women.

Mbeki believes that poverty is the overriding factor causing disease among black people and that this must be accepted as the truth when health challenges, such as HIV/AIDS, are addressed.

But there is a "studied and sustained attempt to hide the truth about diseases of poverty" by those who follow specific agendas and pursue falsehoods "regardless of the health challenges facing the majority of our people - who happen to be black," Mbeki writes.