The Star (SA) 2 Oct. 2001

The ANC has dismissed as "not credible" the Medical Research Council's findings that AIDS is the leading killer in South Africa.

And Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang plans to deal with MRC employees she says have placed themselves in a "hostile position" to the government.

Although the report has not been officially published, the MRC has come under increasing fire for suggesting that AIDS was the main cause of death. President Thabo Mbeki has also questioned the widely-held view.

Mbeki has asked Tshabalala-Msimang and other ministers to re-examine the government's policy, based on United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics for 1995/96 that show AIDS as 12th in the list of reasons for deaths in the country.

Report causing 'problems' for ANC

"Needless to say, these figures will provoke a howl of displeasure and a concerted propaganda campaign among those who have convinced themselves that HIV/AIDS is the single biggest cause of death in our country," Mbeki said in a recent letter to the minister.

ANC publicist Smuts Ngonyama said on Tuesday that his party was finding it difficult to verify the accuracy of the MRC report.

He said the exclusion of "other stakeholders" from its report was causing "problems" for the ANC.

"All we need is credible statistics agreed to by all stakeholders," said Ngonyama.

According to the government, about five million people in South Africa have contracted HIV/AIDS.

Mbeki standing firm over letter

The ANC had "seen the MRC report", Ngonyama said, but doubted its credibility and was aware that another more inclusive report would be carried out.

Allegations that the government was trying to gag the report have been rejected as unfounded by the health minister.

"The MRC report is not a government report and therefore the unfounded allegations in the media implying the deliberate attempts on the part of the government to delay the release of this report is inaccurate. Government cannot release a report that it does not own," said Tshabalala-Msimang.

"It is highly regrettable that employees of the MRC, who themselves are government employees, should have chosen to act in ways which place themselves in a hostile position vis-a-vis the government, and it will be necessary for this serious situation to be attended to," she added.

MRC head Malegapuru Makgoba declined to comment.

Amid criticism from HIV/AIDS activists and opposition parties, Mbeki is standing firm over his letter to Tshabalala-Msimang, which questions the view that the disease is one of the main causes of death in the country.