Pseudo-Science in South Africa
Washington Post- Tuesday , April 18, 2000
PERHAPS THE most important result of the World Bank-IMF meetings was that, for the first time, the final communique paid
due respect to the debilitating importance of AIDS. Yet even as the bankers spoke, on the other side of the world, President
Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was taking a further step down a path that will make the scourge worse. The Washington
meetings recognized that no country can develop if a large chunk of its work force is sick, if millions of children grow up
orphans and if national budgets are swamped by the cost of care for the dying. But Mr. Mbeki seems undeterred.
South Africa is in the midst of a medical holocaust. Some 10 percent of the country's 44 million people are HIV-positive. A
government study found 22.8 percent of all pregnant women carrying the virus, which causes AIDS; at that rate, an estimated
5,000 South African babies are born HIV-positive every month. Thanks to inadequate health care, poor education and social
stigma, many, many infected people receive only partial treatment or none.
Yet President Mbeki unaccountably continues to embrace and legitimize absolute misinformation about the causes and
treatment of AIDS. In 1997, while still Nelson Mandela's deputy president, he supported the use of a spurious South
African-made remedy for AIDS called Virodene. Last year, his government refused to fund distribution of the medication AZT
to pregnant women, despite the fact that it has been shown to reduce the transmission of HIV from pregnant mothers to their
babies. Mr. Mbeki labeled the medicine "a danger to health" and derided his critics as "salespersons" for the manufacturer.
It is not clear why Mr. Mbeki continues to evade the reality. His latest idea is to convene an international panel to reexamine the
cause of AIDS. The panel will include "dissident" academics who claim, among other things, that Africa's epidemic is a result of
malnutrition rather than infection by HIV. "You can't respond correctly [to the AIDS epidemic] by closing your eyes and ears
to any point of view," Mr. Mbeki says. Actually, the president's panel is a ludicrous waste of precious time, and a cruel hoax on
his suffering people. No serious medical scientist doubts the causal link between HIV and AIDS. And no serious political
leader should either.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company