SOUTH AFRICA LOOKS TO CONTROVERSIAL PANEL FOR AIDS HELP
By Emelia Sithole
Reuters 3 July 2000
Johannesburg -- South Africa's government is looking to
a controversial panel of experts with widely differing views to help it
deal with a looming AIDS crisis, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-
Msimang said on Monday.
Opening a two-day meeting of an international AIDS panel set up by
President Thabo Mbeki to investigate the pandemic, Tshabalala-Msimang
urged the group to come up with concrete recommendations to help the
"We shall not be deterred in our effort to get ideas from anyone if
those ideas will enable us to better serve our people,'' Tshabalala-
The 30-member panel includes researchers like American scientist Peter
Duesberg, who believe AIDS is not caused by the human immunodeficiency
The two-day closed session could set the tone for the world's largest
AIDS meeting scheduled to begin on Sunday in the coastal South African
city of Durban.
South African government officials have shrugged off criticism of their
AIDS stance, insisting that all views on the spread of the virus will
receive an equal hearing.
"What our focus has always been is to provide a platform for open
constructive dialogue so that we can learn and get ideas on how to
comprehensively respond to the challenge we face,'' Tshabalala-Msimang
South Africa has one of the world's fastest growing HIV-AIDS epidemics
in a poverty-stricken continent where more than 70 percent of the
world's 34 million people with HIV-AIDS live.
About 4.3 million South Africans, or 10 percent of the population, are
HIV positive, a toll that increases by 1,700 new infections daily,
according to government statistics.
A UNAids report released last week put the figure at 20 percent.
The government's efforts to tackle the disease have been bogged down in
Mbeki has expressed doubts over the effectiveness of anti-AIDS drugs and
refuses to give pregnant women the anti-retroviral drug AZT.
Tshabalala-Msimang earlier told Reuters that the purpose of the AIDS
panel was to clarify issues for the government which experts and
scientists were unclear about.
She urged the panel to focus on:
- what the government's prevention strategies should be in the "South
African context'' and to point out what has been lacking in a strategy
that has failed to check the pandemic.
- the role of poverty, opportunistic infections and other co-factors in
AIDS as well as the relevance of anti-retroviral drugs for developing