SAPA 28 Feb. 2000

Johannesburg -- An expert panel, which will re-assess various aspects of AIDS science, is to be convened by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, her special advisor Dr Ian Roberts said on Monday.

"We are looking into the feasibility of getting an international expert panel to look into AIDS in Africa and the way forward. It will be internationally representative and made up of experts from the US, Europe and Africa," he told Sapa.

Roberts emphasised the process was still in its early stages and declined to divulge the names of experts who had been approached.

However, he confirmed that some experts had been invited to participate.

The new panel would surely re-appraise the scientific evidence that HIV caused AIDS.

Debate in scientific circles over AIDS has been raging since the viral cause of AIDS was proposed in 1984.

Among so-called AIDS dissidents, one of the most outspoken has been Professor Peter Duesberg of the University of California.

In 1989 he published a paper which proposed that AIDS was not a contagious syndrome caused by one conventional virus or microbe.

He said no such virus or microbe would average eight years to cause a primary disease, or would selectively affect only those who habitually practised risk behaviour, or would be able to cause the diverse collection of over 20 degenerative and neoplastic AIDS diseases.

"Neither could a conventional virus or microbe survive if it were as inefficiently transmitted as AIDS, and killed its host in the process.

He said conventional viruses were either highly pathogenic and easy to transmit, or nonpathogenic and latent and hence very difficult to transmit.

The paper caused a furore in scientific circles. Some even demanded that Duesberg be struck from the roll of the academy, a demand the committee ignored.

In a second article in 1991, Duesberg elaborated on his first paper.

His proposals have since been supported by hundreds of scientists and experimental data from around the world.

Mainstream science and medical journals have consistently refused to publish articles by the so-called AIDS dissidents, who in 1991 formed a coalition calling for a re-appraisal of AIDS.

Tshabalala-Msimang's initiative to convene an international panel to re-assess AIDS science is a first.

"Never before has any government opened the debate for assessment by an independent expert group."