SAPA 3 October 2000

The African National Congress has refrained from clarifying its stance on HIV and AIDS, saying while it supported the government's prevention campaign against the pandemic, it also felt more research was needed into the cause of the syndrome.

President Thabo Mbeki has repeatedly come under fire, most recently from the South African Medical Association (Sama), for questioning whether HIV is the sole cause of AIDS.

Mbeki appointed a panel of orthodox and dissident scientists to investigate the links between the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) and acquired human immuno-dificiency syndrome (AIDS).

He questioned whether there was a direct link between HIV and AIDS, saying other factors such as poverty could cause AIDS. Mbeki told the national assembly last month the question was what contribution the virus made to weakening the immune system. He had no problem with the proposition that it contributed to the collapse of the immune system, but felt it was not solely responsible. The ANC's statement was released after a three-day meeting of the party's national executive committee, which ended on Sunday. It reaffirmed the ANC's support of government policy and programmes on HIV and AIDS, which are based on the thesis that HIV causes AIDS.

The statement then went on to say it supported "scientific enquiry" into the pandemic and towards efforts to find a cure.

"In this context, we should refuse to surrender to populism, dogma and sales pitches of some pharmaceutical companies and their agents," it said.

The NEC said fighting the spread of the pandemic was a national priority.

The party and its supporters must not become distracted from turning around the tide of the pandemic.

"Neither should we pander to the agenda of those whose occupation it is to extract the most sensational sound byte."

When asked to clarify the ANC's stance on HIV and AIDS issue, Public Enterprises Minister Jeff Radebe, who attended the press conference, said: "It is in the statement ... we support the president."