TOP OFFICIALS CHALLENGED ON HIV/AIDS
SAPA 9 May 2000
Cape Town - The director-general of the health department and the official
in charge of its AIDS programme on Tuesday both said they believed the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) caused the disease.
Their statements came on the first day of the parliamentary health portfolio
committee's hearings on HIV/AIDS, and followed the first meeting at the
weekend of a government-appointed panel that includes a number of AIDS
Some dissidents deny any connection between the virus and the disease, or
even that HIV exists - an approach which orthodox scientists say holds
disastrous implications for any AIDS prevention campaign.
The DG, Ayanda Ntsaluba, and the head of the department's AIDS directorate,
Nono Similela, both defended the formation of the controversial panel,
Ayanda saying one had to "begin to blur" the line between dissident and
orthodox views, and bring to bear all expertise, regardless of beliefs.
Challenged by New National Party health spokesperson Dr Kobus Gous on
whether he believed HIV caused AIDS, he said he had been taught this and
However, he also believed the behaviour of the disease on the African
continent was such that "we need to better understand what is going on".
He also believed there were many other complicating factors in immune
deficiency on the continent.
Similela, in her reply to Gous, did not directly answer the question, saying
only that she had been taught there was a virus which caused AIDS, but that
what worried her about the epidemic was that it was "definitely different"
in South Africa.
Questioned after the hearing on whether she believed there was a link, she
replied "Of course I do", but expressed concern that the media would portray
this as clashing with the views of President Thabo Mbeki - who has courted
dissident views and defended them to other world leaders - and that this
could cost her job.
She told the committee that since the AIDS panel was initiated, she had not
had any directive from her seniors to change the strategies followed by her
Scientific debate and discussion did not undermine these interventions.
"We will continue responding to the epidemic," she said.
Ntsaluba said the media had followed a "very simplistic" approach to the
dissidents, and nothing could be further from the truth than to suggest the
only thing that bound them was doubt on the link between HIV and AIDS.
"It's a spectrum of individuals who made an input," he said.
He said a number of eminent scientists, including AIDS research pioneer
Robert Gallo, had been unable to join the 33-odd participants in the
weekend's discussions in Pretoria, but would be available for the six-week
Internet debate that would now follow.
Ntsaluba said the panel meeting had been a very useful exchange of ideas.
One of the members, French scientist Luc Montagnier, who first isolated the
HI virus, had told him on Monday that he was beginning to understand that
there might be "co-factors" that accounted for the high levels of
transmission in developing countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.