Don't ambush Aids effort, experts plead

September 15, 2006

South Africa's HIV-Aids researchers have accused the Government of depriving them of the support they need to fight the disease.

Hoosen "Jerry" Coovadia, who chaired the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban in 2000 - the first held in the developing world - this week criticised the Government's unscientific approach to the virus.

He said the Government was undermining research and crucial interventions, "embarrassing" the country and ambushing efforts to halt the epidemic.

Professor Coovadia was one of 81 scientists from 12 countries who earlier this month wrote to President Thabo Mbeki urging him to fire the Health Minister, Manto Tshabala-Msimang.

He said President Mbeki's questioning of the causes of Aids and his alternative dissidents panel had "had a major impact" in 2000.

The Government's attitude had been "an utter disaster, as it has promoted anti-scientific policies, treatments and methods of intervention", Professor Coovadia said. "Many interventions that were worked out globally and in South Africa have not been able to be tested. Funding agencies are saying that we know what has to be done but cannot intervene beyond research projects... without the support of the Government.

"It has also been incredibly difficult to get approval and support from state-related bodies such as the Medicines Controls Council, which gives permission for scientific studies."

There were 11 South Africans among the 81 scientists who wrote to President Mbeki.

Kgosi Letlape, chair of the South African Medical Association, accused the Health Minister of confusing the public and suggested that she was breaking the law. Within days Ms Tshabala-Msimang was stripped of sole responsibility for HIV-Aids, and the Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, assumed a more active role as head of a revitalised National Aids Council.

A government spokesman stressed that its programme "is based on the belief that HIV does cause Aids".

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