OVERWHELMING SUPPORT FOR AIDS PANEL
SAPA 8 March 2000
Johannesburg -- The ANC, scientific organisations and institutions on Wednesday indicated
their support for the government's initiative to convene a panel of experts
to reassess research into HIV/AIDS in Africa.
The panel would be expected to reappraise scientific evidence that the
human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Academy of
Science of South Africa (ASSAf), the Akademie vir Wetenskap and Kuns
(SAAWEK), the National Youth Commission, the African National Congress and
editors of the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) and the South African
Journal of Science (SAJS) pledged their support for the review process on
HIV/AIDS announced by the Ministry of Health last week.
A copy of the invitation sent to prospective participants on the panel by
Dr Ian Roberts, special adviser to Health Minister Dr Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang, has been made available to Sapa.
It states that "trusted colleagues" supplied the names of people who would
be approached. It is understood that invitations were extended as early as
Dr Malegapuru William Makgoba, President of the Medical Research Council,
said he preferred "not to comment at this stage because I have not enough
He said he had not been contacted by the Health Ministry and nor had the
The Academy's president Professor Wieland Gevers said he supported any
"initiative that would help to develop and clarify public policy on a
matter of such extraordinary importance as HIV/AIDS in South Africa"
He said however, it would have to be "cost-effective, properly set-up and
"The academy strongly favours open debate on the issue, but would want,
according to its constitution, to apply scientific thinking in the service
of the country, that is to ensure that scientific knowledge and method are
deployed in the approach."
Chief secretary of the SAAWEK Dr Bernard Louw said they were willing to
contribute to the work of the AIDS committee, although his organisation had
also not been contacted by Roberts.
"In view of the enormity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the akademie welcomes
scientific and enlightened debate on the issue."
Roberts' invitation to the as yet unknown expert panel said that "it had
been agreed by the President of South Africa and the Minister of Health
that an expert group should be convened... the suggested topic for general
discussion will be: AIDS in Africa - the way forward".
The intention is that the expert panel "shall consist of about 30 persons
from Europe, America and Africa and will meet twice in South Africa. The
first meeting will be in March/April and the second in June/July... In the
period between meetings an Internet think-tank discussion is planned".
This coincides with the upcoming 13th International AIDS Conference, a
biannual event, which will be hosted by South Africa this year and will
take place in July in Durban.
The conference will hold sessions devoted to HIV/AIDS and the youth.
National Youth Commission spokesman Monde Makalipi said the organisation
supported any move by the Department of Health aimed at informing HIV/AIDS
"Our particular interests that we need to have addressed by the expert
panel is the treatment of HIV/AIDS and opportunistic infections, the
general prevention of the disease and the prevention of mother-to-child
"We strongly believe the expert panel can work if its sole purpose is to
look at the unique situation we have in South Africa and Africa - the
unique health care that prevails. We fully support the international
expert panel move."
Editor of the SAJS, Dr Graham Baker said public discourse on HIV and AIDS
had generally been ill-informed and inadequate.
"What is needed, at the very least, is a forum for critical and open
discussion that benefits from contributions from the medical profession,
scientists, social workers and policy-makers.
"Their collective advice and experience, even though they are unlikely to
reach consensus about a national policy to tackle this dreadful disease,
should be made readily available to all interested parties."
According to Roberts's invitation "all documentation should be placed in
the public domain . . . the consensus report should be considered for
publication in an international journal".
Baker's counterpart at the SAMJ, Dr Dan Ncayiyana said: "Enough questions
have been raised about the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS for
that relationship to warrant rigorous scientific investigation."
ANC media co-ordinator Nomfamela Kota-Mayosi said: "The ANC stands behind
President Mbeki in championing the cause of finding a divergence of
solutions to the challenge of HIV/AIDS and putting these into policy.
"We think that convening an expert panel is going to widen the debate and
give people the scope to participate in all issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in
"This debate has been limited only to people who promote the school of
thought that HIV causes AIDS."
This viewpoint was echoed by CSIR, president Dr Geoff Garrett, who said the
organisation was already engaged in numerous activities to help reduce the
future impact of the pandemic in South Africa.
"In the context of the enormity and urgency of the challenge that the
HIV/AIDS pandemic presents to our nation, it is critical that all relevant
skills and all institutions that can usefully play a role commit to work
together in 'Team South Africa' mode."