The South African government was embroiled in a fresh disagreement over its AIDS policy yesterday when the health ministry confirmed hiring a controversial scientist who disputes the link between HIV and AIDS. Dr. Roberto Giraldo, a leading AIDS dissident, has been included in a team of experts to advise the government on how to combat HIV, which has infected 4.7 million South Africans.
AIDS activists renewed accusations that the authorities could not be serious about tackling the pandemic while listening to those who argued against the provision of AIDS drugs. Giraldo reportedly believes that antiretroviral drugs induce rather than treat AIDS, and that the disease is caused by nutritional deficiencies -- a belief apparently shared by President Thabo Mbeki, who has linked AIDS to poverty.
News that the U.S.-based dissident would be consulted on a regular basis prompted calls for the resignation of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, a close ally of the president.
Tshabalala-Msimang said that she was not interested in Giraldo's views on the links between HIV-AIDS -- a link the cabinet publicly accepted last year -- but is following up the latest reports from the World Health Organization and the UN detailing the importance of diet in delaying the onset of AIDS.
Critics said the government is focusing on food as a diversion from the issue of antiretroviral drugs, which are unavailable to most infected South Africans. The Treatment Action Campaign, a leading AIDS activist group, said it would launch a campaign of civil disobedience March 21 unless the ruling African National Congress agrees to make the drugs widely available. Sandy Kalyan of the opposition Democratic Alliance said her party would seek an urgent debate in parliament on Tshabalala-Msimang's HIV/AIDS policy. "The debate will focus on why the minister should vacate her post," she said.
Back to other CDC news for March 11, 2003