MAJOR KILLER IS POVERTY NOT AIDS
President Mbeki Opens AIDS Conference
Reuters 9 July 2000
Durban -- South African President Thabo Mbeki
Sunday opened Africa's biggest AIDS conference, saying poverty and
not AIDS was the most dangerous threat to the continent's peoples.
In his address to the 13th International AIDS Conference, Mbeki failed
to explicitly say that HIV causes AIDS but he did say his government
remained committed to fighting the disease.
Mbeki has courted international controversy by appointing so-called
"AIDS dissidents," some of whom doubt that HIV exists or that it
causes AIDS, to a presidential panel.
"The world's biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill health and
suffering across the globe, including South Africa, is extreme
poverty," Mbeki told a stadium audience.
"As I listened and heard the whole story about our own country, it
seemed to me that we could not blame everything on a single virus,"
Mbeki said in a speech drawing heavily on a 1995 study by the World
Health Organization (WHO).
Mbeki also used his address to staunchly defend his right as South
African president to appoint members of his own choosing to the
advisory panel and for all scientists to be heard.
"I believe that we should speak to one another honestly and frankly
with sufficient tolerance to respect everybody's point of view with
sufficient tolerance to allow all voices to be heard," Mbeki said.
"Some in our common world consider the questions I and the rest of our
government have raised about the HIV-AIDS issue... as akin to grave
criminal and genocidal misconduct," Mbeki said.
Mbeki's panel has agreed to carry out tests to validate the widely used
screening test for HIV and will report back to the president by the end
of this year.
Fight against AIDS goes on
Mbeki said the government remained committed to fighting HIV-AIDS
through preventive measures and poverty reduction programs.
This included contributing to the international research into
antiretroviral therapies and efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine.
"There is no substance to the allegation that there is hesitation on
the part of our government to confront the challenge of HIV-AIDS.
"However we remain convinced of the need for us to better understand
the essence of what would constitute a comprehensive response in a
context such as ours which is characterized by the high levels of
poverty and disease," Mbeki said.
The six-day conference, intended to focus on how the developed world
and its rich drug firms could help the AIDS pandemic in Africa and
other developing countries, has been overshadowed by the controversy
over Mbeki's stance on HIV-AIDS.
Mbeki told assembled international delegates that they would be unable
to appreciate the continent's poverty because of their busy conference
"You will not see the South African world of the poverty of which the
WHO spoke, in which AIDS thrives -- a partner with poverty, suffering,
social disadvantage and inequity," Mbeki said.
Some 24.5 million Africans are living with HIV-AIDS from a total world
population of 34.3 million, according to the United Nations AIDS