SAPA 3 March 2000

Johannesburg -- President Thabo Mbeki intends to lobby other world leaders to gather support for a new look at issues such as whether HIV causes AIDS, according to a prominent AIDS dissident.

American biochemist David Rasnick, who disputes that AIDS is transmitted sexually, said this week that he spoke to Mbeki by phone in January.

He said Mbeki told him he would write to United States President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder "and ask them to join his efforts to bring about an international discussion on AIDS and the antiHIV therapies".

Mbeki had said this discussion would happen sometime in spring, well before the international AIDS conference in Durban in July. He said Mbeki wanted to provide a public forum where the leading proponents of the "hypothesis" that HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) caused AIDS, and its leading critics, could present the evidence for and against popular beliefs.

Rasnick said he had suggested to Mbeki that these include the beliefs that AIDS was contagious, that AIDS was sexually transmitted, that HIV caused AIDS, and that antiHIV drugs promoted life and health.

Rasnick's statements follow this week's news that the health department has begun searching for international scientists to take part in a panel on AIDS that is expected to reexamine the scientific evidence surrounding the disease, including the link between HIV and AIDS.

The plan met with a storm of protest from doctors, AIDS activists and the media, who said the dissident arguments had been discredited years ago, and that South Africa risked becoming the laughingstock of the world.

In a statement on Thursday 2nd March , Health Minister Manto TshabalalaMsimang declined to say whether leading dissident Peter Duesburg coauthor with Rasnick of scientific papers would be on the panel.

"My department is talking to a wide range of specialists to see who is willing and available to participate," she said. "My personal view is that those with more extreme views are unlikely to participate because we are looking for a consensus view." The team members, to meet in South Africa as soon as possible, would be encouraged to look at issues including "local evidence regarding the causes and diagnosis of AIDS".

Rasnick, who has spent much of his life researching protease inhibitors, seen as an antiAIDS drug, lives in Berkely, California. He is on record as saying that the medical world has produced 40bn US dollars of research that only proves HIV is harmless, and that AIDS has become a multibillion dollar industry.

"I'm a scientist with 20 years' experience and there's only two things I'm absolutely certain of... agency ellipsis One is that AIDS is not contagious. It's not a thing you can 'catch' from anybody. And the other thing is it's not caused by a virus, in particular HIV." He said this week that Mbeki who is known to trawl the Internet for information on HIV/AIDS, and who last year came out publicly against the antiAIDS drug AZT had sent him a list of questions in January, and followed this up with a tenminute phone conversation on 21st January.

"He asked me if I would support his efforts regarding AZT and AIDS. I made a personal commitment to support Mbeki and I also committed Rethinking AIDS: the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal, and I committed the International Coalition for Medical Justice to support his efforts," Rasnick said.

Mbeki had sent him a list of eight questions he had already asked TshabalalaMsimang, plus part of her answers, and asked for his comments. He and colleague Dr Charles Geshekter of California State University, who met TshabalalaMsimang in South Africa in December, later sent Mbeki a full reply.

In it they queried the justification for "lumping together the wellknown diseases and conditions of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation and parasitic diseases that Africans have been suffering from for generations and renaming them as AIDS".

Mbeki's questions had covered areas including the methods used in the public health system to test HIV status, the definition used to classify a person as having AIDS, and the diseases identified as having caused the death of AIDS victims.

Rasnick said he and Geshekter told Mbeki that while the minister's answers "faithfully reflect the views of many in the medical establishment", her responses exposed many of the problems and contradictions inherent in trying to understand AIDS in Africa. "Why are diseases that generations of Africans have been suffering from long before AIDS now arbitrarily redefined as AIDS?" they asked.

"The HIV/AIDS establishment is blaming the consequences of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, parasitic diseases etc. on a harmless virus. There are billions of dollars available for AZT and condoms but hardly a penny for food, schools, education, clean water, and jobs. The only blessing of poverty is that it may protect poor Africans from the highly toxic antiHIV drugs that have already killed thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Americans."

They said the minister leaned heavily on AIDS being sexually transmitted. The simple fact was that this was merely a very popular assumption. All scientific studies that had tried to measure sexual transmission had repeatedly shown it was virtually impossible.

"Mr President, we are well aware that your investigations into AIDS and the antiHIV drugs is not popular among some of your fellow countrymen and certainly not popular with the world HIV/AIDS establishment and the drug companies," they said.

"There must be tremendous pressure on you personally and on your administration to stop your investigation. We know the courage it takes to do the right thing in the face of such pressure. You have our support and admiration for what you are doing."

Mbeki's spokesman Parks Mankahlana declined to confirm whether the president had been in contact with Rasnick. "The president would be disappointed if people he has spoken to would want to use the contact with him to justify whatever view they may hold," he said.

Mbeki's speaking to someone did not necessarily mean the president agreed with his views. He said Mbeki had a particular interest in HIV/AIDS because of its devastating consequences, and was intensely involved in discussions with people ranging from scientists to commentators about "the global effort that needs to be undertaken for humanity".