IN DEBATE ON AIDS, SOUTH AFRICA'S LEADERS DEFEND MAVERICKS
The New York Times 21 April 2000
Johannesburg -- South African officials today defended the right of maverick AIDS
experts to be heard, and continued to speak skeptically of accepted beliefs
about how the disease is transmitted.
President Thabo Mbeki sparked renewed controversy on Wednesday for
backing scientists who say that H.I.V. does not cause AIDS. He defended
skeptical scientists like Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick, both Americans,
in a letter to President Clinton and other world leaders.
And today Mr. Mbeki's deputy president, Jacob Zuma, declaring that all
sides on the debate had to be heard, drew parallels between arguments about
the virus and the 17th-century controversy surrounding Galileo, who
shattered scientific orthodoxy by proving the earth moved around the
sun. "His views were considered to be so threatening to the scientific
establishment that he was forced to publicly recant," Mr. Zuma was quoted
as saying in a statement released by the office of the presidency. "As we
all know today, he was right and they were wrong." "Suppose we discover,
as Galileo did, that the socalled mainstream scientific view is incorrect,"
Mr. Zuma said. "Suppose there was even a 1 percent chance that the solution
lay elsewhere. As a country we cannot afford to overlook this
possibility." Western scientists have criticized the position that H.I.V.
does not cause AIDS as misguided, saying thousands of people are dying
while politicians argue about the cause and cure of the disease. South
Africa has one of the world's fastest growing rates of H.I.V. infection,
with 4.2 million people almost 10 percent of the population estimated to
have the virus.
South Africa is scheduled to act as host to an important AIDS
conference in Durban in July. South Africa has invited dissidents,
including Mr. Duesberg and Mr. Rasnick to attend the July conference. A
conference organizer said today that there was no confirmation that the two
American scientists would attend.
In his speech, Mr. Zuma went on to say that no group of scientists
could monopolize a particular issue. "Our view is that it is fundamentally
wrong to accept the notion that established mainstream scientific truths
must not be questioned," Mr. Zuma said in the statement. "We should not,
and we will not leave any stone unturned, even if this means including the
views of the socalled dissidents," he said. A presidential spokesman, Parks
Mankahlana, said Mr. Mbeki's letter to world leaders was to meant to defend
the right of Mr. Duesberg and the others to be heard. Mr. Mankahlana added,
however, that the South African president did not necessarily agree with
them. Mr. Mbeki's letter asserted his government's right to doubt whether
H.I.V. causes AIDS, to question whether life-saving treatments such as the
drug AZT are too toxic and to resist the "superimposition of Western
experience on African reality." Mr. Mbeki's government has refused to make
AZT available in public clinics even though studies have shown its use can
protect the babies of H.I.V.infected mothers. Further debate over the use
of AZT emerged today when a spokeswoman for the military said the army had
discontinued use of AZT earlier this month. "The courses have been stopped
and there will be no new prescriptions," the spokeswoman said.