SAPA 21 March 2000

Cape Town - At least one so-called dissident has accepted an invitation to sit on the panel of international AIDS experts being put together by the Health Department.

Professor Sam Mhlongo, head of the department of family medicine and primary health care at the Medical University of Southern Africa, said on Monday that he has accepted the invitation.

The panel, whose other members have not been announced, is to be asked to come up with "African" solutions for dealing with the disease.

It will also, controversially, be asked to re-examine "local evidence" on the cause of AIDS. Most scientists agree there is no doubt that HIV causes AIDS, and say the dissident arguments have been discredited.

Mhlongo said that while he rejects the term dissident, his own view on HIV and AIDS is "not really very different" from that of American biochemist David Rasnick.

Rasnick, whose views were canvassed earlier this year by President Thabo Mbeki, disputes that AIDS is transmitted sexually, says flatly it is not caused by the HI virus, and disputes that anti-HIV drugs are good for patients.

Mhlongo said his own view is that the case for a link between HIV and AIDS is not proven, and he has questions over the diagnosis of AIDS itself.

His concern is that as long as there is a focus on HIV, a large body of patients whose immunity is compromised because of other illnesses are being excluded.

In a leader page article in Monday's Business Day, Mbeki's spokesman Parks Mankahlana said the panel "must strive to give answers to all the unknowns".

"It must attempt to unravel all the 'mysteries' of the HIV/AIDS virus, including - and more especially - what the profit-takers cannot tell us," the article said.

Mankahlana said Mbeki deserves support and not "scorn and ridicule" in his quest to address HIV/AIDS, and hit out at "the machinations of the profiteering pharmaceutical companies".