S. AFRICA'S MBEKI AGAIN QUESTIONS AIDS THREAT
Reuters 10 Sept. 2001
Johannesburg -- South African President Thabo Mbeki,
who has attracted a storm of controversy for questioning the link
between HIV and AIDS, has stated once again that AIDS is not the
biggest killer in the country.
In a letter to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, dated August
6, 2001, and published by Business Day newspaper on Monday, Mbeki
said South Africa's biggest killer was external causes and that
HIV/AIDS was responsible for only 2.2% of total deaths in South
The figures that Mbeki quotes were compiled by the United
Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) for 1995.
"I can confirm that this data is on the WHO website,'' said Richard
de Luyt, a spokesman in South Africa for UNAIDS, the UN agency that
compiles AIDS statistics for the WHO.
"I must stress however that WHO collects such data from national
governments,'' he added.
Mbeki's spokesman Bheki Khumalo told Reuters the president's letter
to the minister formed part of an on-going debate with the government
on health policy.
"Needless to say, these figures will provoke a howl of displeasure
and a concerted propaganda campaign among those who have convinced
themselves that HIV/AIDS is the single biggest cause of death in our
country,'' Mbeki wrote.
"These are the people whose prejudices led them to discover the
false reality, among other things, that we are running out of space in
our cemeteries as a result of unprecedented deaths caused by
HIV/AIDS,'' he added.
The letter is likely to attract further controversy over Mbeki's
stance on HIV-AIDS, which affects close to five million South
Africans, more than any other country.
Mbeki has acknowledged that the human immunodeficiency virus is a
cause of AIDS, but does not accept it is the only cause. He argues
that poverty plays a key role in the pandemic that affects more than
25 million Africans.
In an interview broadcast by the BBC last month Mbeki said violence
and not AIDS was the biggest killer in South Africa.
He has denied providing state-sponsored life-prolonging
antiretroviral drugs to HIV-infected patients on cost and safety
grounds and appointed to his own panel on the disease scientists who
argue AIDS is caused by recreational drug use.