SOUTH AFRICA'S MBEKI WANTS MORE DATA ON AIDS THREAT
By Brendan Boyle
Reuters 24 Oct. 2001
Cape Town -- President Thabo Mbeki said Wednesday his
government would not alter its approach to the HIV /AIDS pandemic
sweeping South Africa until it had assessed new data on the disease
and gathered additional information.
"I do not believe that at this particular moment the government is
going to do anything to change the policy position that it has
announced in this regard,'' Mbeki said in response to questions in
Mbeki has been criticized at home and abroad for his reluctance to
acknowledge a direct link between HIV and AIDS or that the disease
constitutes an emergency in South Africa.
South Africa is estimated to have more people with HIV-AIDS than any
other country in the world, with close to 5 million people--or one in
nine of the population--being HIV-positive, according to UN estimates.
Mbeki has also blocked the use of key antiretroviral drugs in the
public health system, including those that can reduce the risk of
mothers passing on the disease to their newborns, on cost and safety
This is despite top drug firms offering some of these drugs--which
can prolong the life of those who are HIV-positive--at prices lower
than those in the private sector.
Protests After Report Blocked
In a recent television interview, Mbeki stunned the scientific
community by claiming that accidents and violence killed more people
The state-appointed Medical Research Council said in a study released
last week that AIDS would account for a third of all deaths this year
and that without government intervention and a change in sexual
behavior, it would kill between 5 million and 7 million people by
The report said about 195,000 people would die of AIDS-related
diseases this year, compared to 65,000 to 80,000 deaths as a result
of accidents and violence.
Mbeki initially blocked publication of the report, but sanctioned its
release after a storm of protest from churches, labor unions and AIDS
On Wednesday, he said the report had been submitted for review to a
panel including ministers, the government statistics office and
"We are not considering any reapportionment of funding until that
social cluster of ministers and these other processes are concluded.
We will then decide how to proceed with regard to this matter,''
Opposition leader Tony Leon said the treatment of AIDS accounted for
only 0.6% of total national spending on health. But Mbeki responded
saying his government needed more data on causes of death.