Cape Town -- "How appropriate in the age of AIDS to seek counsel and support from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu," says David Rasnick, President Thabo Mbeki's chief AIDS advisor in a letter to News24.

In a scathing attack on Tutu's comment that the government should stop "fiddling" and provide nevirapine for HIV-positive pregnant mothers, Rasnick wrote: "The belief that AIDS is contagious, sexually transmitted and caused by HIV is essentially a religious matter."

"Beliefs are things that are accepted as being true in the absence of evidence - hence religious belief."

"Therefore, since HIV/AIDS is really a religious movement, it is indeed quite understandable that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu would be called upon to harangue the government's rational investigation into the true nature of AIDS as heretical," Rasnick wrote.

"The newspapers and journalists (and even scientists and doctors) ask: do you believe that HIV causes AIDS or do you not believe it? My response is always the same: I have no beliefs about AIDS or HIV. I have views and opinions based on the evidence.

"My views and opinions change as my understanding of the evidence changes. Beliefs, on the other hand, are immutable, sacrosanct, and are not subject to the rigors of evidence and argument."

Laughing stock

Tutu said on Monday that countries poorer than South Africa were reversing the impact of AIDS and that our HIV/AIDS campaign needed "some urgency" and should not be "engaging in academic discussions while people are dying".

Referring to the Pretoria High Court decision that nevirapine be distributed to all HIV-positive pregnant mothers, he said: "Thank goodness for the court decision. It's been so unnecessary for things to have gone that way at all. We have been made a laughing stock in the world."

Tutu expressed the hope that "government will abide by the court's decision, because we need a focused campaign so "we know where we're going".

Justice Minister Penuell Maduna on Monday night indicated that provinces had the right to refuse to implement the Pretoria High Court order forcing the government to provide nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women at state hospitals with the capacity to do so.

Issues in dispute

Rasnick, a member of Mbeki's AIDS Advisory Panel, is a California-based scientist and was one of the first dissidents to have contact with Mbeki when the president began questioning conventional theories on HIV and AIDS.

Rasnick's views are controversial for describing the virus as "harmless", and for declaring himself willing to have himself injected with pure HIV.

The issues still in dispute are that:

  • AIDS is said to be contagious -which Rasnick says it is not;
  • that it is said to be sexually transmitted - which he says it is not;
  • and that it is said to be caused by HIV - which it does not, according to Rasnick.
  • The fourth area of dispute is the claim that anti-HIV drugs prolonged or at least improved the quality of life, of which Rasnick says: "The drugs accelerate death and make people sick with AIDS diseases and other diseases." and
  • AIDS was said to be devastating Africa, in particular South Africa.

Rasnick says: "Africans are suffering and dying from the same things they have been suffering and dying from for generations before AIDS."

"They are not suffering and dying from something new called AIDS."

Rasnick wrote in a letter to the Financial Mail in March 2001 that poverty, unclean water, poor sanitation, and malnutrition "are the real causes of disease, ill health and death - all of which are being blamed on a harmless virus".

The Democratic Alliance at the time called for his suspension from Mbeki's AIDS advisory panel, saying the president should distance himself "once and for all from perspectives" of people such as Rasnick by removing him from the panel, and availing himself of more reputable scientific advice to properly address the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa.

Antiretrovirals 'killing' people

The Mail and Guardian reported on Friday that the African National Congress sent out to its structures a document which implied that late presidential spokesperson Parks Mankahlana had AIDS and that "he was killed by antiretrovirals".

The ANC document also claimed that 12-year-old AIDS activist Nkosi Johnson died of antiretrovirals he "was forced to consume".

"With AIDS, everything is always in the future," Rasnick wrote in comment on the article AIDS orphans to flood SA that appeared on News24 on March 20.

Rasnick wrote: "The future is very safe territory, you can never examine it. It is interesting that the drugs-into-bodies enthusiasts (Treatment Action Campaign, for example) don't ever get around to telling us anything concrete about the present, but they know everything about the future."

The article stated that the government was unable to meet the health and welfare needs of South Africa's estimated 700 000 AIDS orphans, half of whom might be infected with HIV.

Pricilla Monyai, the head of Fort Hare's centre for development studies warned in the article that, with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, African governments and their populations faced health and welfare demands "way out of proportion with available resources".

She pointed out that Africa had lost more than 17 million people to AIDS, the southern African region accounted for 98 percent of all new infections with South Africa - according to her - "taking the lead" in the rate of daily infections.

"I ask again, how many AIDS cases, AIDS deaths, and AIDS orphans were there in South Africa at the end of 2001, for example? And how did they come up with those numbers?" wrote Rasnick.