By Michael Cherry

Nature 16 March 200

Cape Town -- Leading AIDS dissident David Rasnick has claimed that Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, requested his scientific opinion on eight questions related to HIV and AIDS last January.

Rasnick is one of a small band of scientists who claim that HIV does not cause AIDS. Mainstream AIDS researchers are deeply concerned at the suggestion that he is advising the South African government.

Mbeki has also allegedly put the same questions to health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has caused concern by refusing to clarify whether she accepts that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

Rasnick has posted the text of what he claims are Mbeki's questions on the 'Virusmyth' website (, along with his reply, co-written with another AIDS dissident, the historian Charles Geshekter of California State University.

According to Rasnick, Mbeki wants to provide a public forum where proponents and critics of the HIV hypothesis can present the evidence for and against the assertions that AIDS is contagious and sexually transmitted, that HIV causes AIDS, and that anti-HIV drugs help people with the disease.

Rasnick further claims that Mbeki is asking other world leaders, including US president Bill Clinton, UK prime minister Tony Blair, and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, to join him in a discourse about these issues. Rasnick's Internet posting coincided with an announcement by Tshabalala-Msimang on the establishment of a panel of experts to investigate various aspects of AIDS (see Nature 404, 115; 2000).

With Peter Duesberg, his colleague at the University of California, Berkeley, Rasnick co-authored an article entitled "The AIDS dilemma: drug diseases blamed on a passenger virus", published in the journal Genetica in 1998. Duesberg has confirmed that he has not been asked to sit on Tshabalala-Msimang's panel, but says he has written to Mbeki confirming his stand on the HIV–AIDS hypothesis. He indicated to Nature that Rasnick had been approached to participate on the panel.

Tshabalala-Msimang is coming under increasing pressure for her unorthodox views on AIDS. She was booed by angry activists at a dinner in Durban last week, at which, referring to the use of antiretroviral drugs, she said that she didn't want to "plunge into something I don't understand".

This followed a stinging attack by the acting Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron, who is HIV-positive. Cameron criticized the government's policies on AIDS as causing "considerable grief and confusion", and also questioned Tshabalala-Msimang's competence as a minister.