SOUTH AFRICA'S MBEKI DEFENDS HIS AIDS SCEPTICISM
Reuters 16 April 2000
Johannesburg -- South African President Thabo Mbeki on
Sunday defended his decision to test popular medical assumptions about HIV,
the human immunodeficiency virus infecting an estimated 1,700 South Africans
AIDS activists have been enraged by Mbeki's questioning of the link between
HIV and the killer Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome that many cite as the
single greatest threat to economic growth and prosperity in South Africa.
Mbeki has instructed the Health Ministry to set up a 20-member international
panel including scientists who doubt the link between HIV and AIDS to test
assumptions about the disease.
"The matter is critical,'' he said in a rare television interview with the
M-Net pay channel. "The reason we are doing all of this is to be able to
respond correctly to what is reported to be a major catastrophe on the
"You can't respond correctly by closing your eyes and ears to any point of
view,'' he said.
South Africa is scheduled to host the world's most important AIDS conference
in Durban in July, but some activists are urging a boycott because of Mbeki's
Conference chairman Hoosen Coovadia told the local Sunday Independent
newspaper it would be wrong to shun the conference.
"I wish to remind the world that this is not a South African government
conference. It is a meeting of people concerned about HIV/AIDS, which will be
held on South African soil,'' he said.
Mbeki said he was not convinced that HIV was the single virus causing AIDS or
deaths attributed to AIDS.
"To attribute such immune deficiency to a virus produces a specific
response. What we are discussing here as the South African government is that
it seems incorrect to respond to this AIDS challenge within a narrow band.
"If we only said 'there is a virus, safe sex, use a condom', we won't defeat
AIDS,'' he said.
Mbeki said he was surprised by the objection to his decision to consult AIDS
sceptics and to include them in the panel that will advise his government on
handling the AIDS crisis.
"Why don't we bring all points of view together, let them sit around the
table, discuss all of this and let's see what the outcome of this discussion
is - which is why this international panel that we are talking about,'' Mbeki