8 April 2001

Cape Town - The people of South Africa should be the judge and jury in the controversy over the nature of AIDS, leading dissident scientist Dr David Rasnick said on Friday.

Rasnick was commenting on this week's release of the interim report of President Thabo Mbeki's AIDS panel, a body evenly split between dissident and orthodox scientists.

The panel failed in the report to reach consensus on any of the major issues surrounding AIDS, such as its cause or prevention, and instead proposed further experiments and research.

However Rasnick, himself a panellist, said a debate was not intended to change the views of the participants.

"The purpose of the debate is much like that of a legal trial. The prosecution and defence present their arguments and evidence to the jury or judge who then decides.

"In this case, the jury and judge are the people of South Africa and the world, and President Mbeki and his ministers."

Rasnick, a California-based scientist, was one of the first dissidents to have contact with Mbeki when the president began questioning conventional theories on HIV and AIDS.

Rasnick has been in the headlines in South Africa in recent months for describing the virus as "harmless", and for declaring himself willing to have himself injected with pure HIV.

He said on Friday the interim report of the panel that he had seen was a fair representation of what actually happened during the months of the panel's deliberations.

The "minor discrepancies" that cropped up were inevitable in any long report.

However, it was his understanding that the South African government would make available to the public the complete transcript "so that every detail can be examined by those with the interest and stamina".

The issues still in dispute were that AIDS was said to be contagious --which it was not -- that it was said to be sexually transmitted -- which it was not -- and that it was said to be caused by HIV -- which it was not.

The fourth area of dispute was the claim that anti-HIV drugs prolonged or at least improved the quality of life.

"The drugs accelerate death and make people sick with AIDS diseases and other diseases," Rasnick said.

And finally, AIDS was said to be devastating Africa, in particular South Africa.

"Africans are suffering and dying from the same things they have been suffering and dying from for generations before AIDS," he said. "They are not suffering and dying from something new called AIDS."

Rasnick said Mbeki's decision to convene the panel had accomplished something that had never happened in 16 years of HIV.

"It brought together under one roof those who support the mainstream view that AIDS is contagious and caused by HIV and those who dispute that assertion.

"That is a major accomplishment."

"The exercise was extremely important to the people of SA and the world, and it is not over," he said.

Earlier, Medical Research Council president Professor William Makgoba announced that an experiment commissioned by the panel has given a thumbs up to the quality of HIV testing in South Africa.

He said a total of 2447 specimens from five sites in South Africa were tested both in the republic and at the United States' Centres for Disease Control.

The aim of this was to establish the quality and reliability of HIV serology testing in South Africa, an issue crucial for clinical diagnosis and keeping track of the epidemic.

Makgoba said that in only two specimens was there a discrepancy between the South African results and those of the CDC.

In another nine specimens, results were reported as positive or reactive by the South African sites and as indeterminate by the CDC.

He said this showed the high quality of HIV testing in South Africa.

Referring to the two discrepancies, he said that if a positive had been obtained, additional tests on further specimens would be carried out before a clinical diagnosis of HIV-positive would be made.