Thabo Mbeki Ignites AIDS Inferno
Vesely, Milan, African Business
South African President Thabo Mbeki has finally articulated what millions of Africans have been thinking for quite a long time. Is HIV really the cause of AIDS in Africa and are the very expensive drugs made by giant western firms, the only relief? Milan Vesely discusses the impact of Mbeki's hand-written letter to Western heads of state and the effect this is likely to have on an international conference on the disease slated for July in Durban.
Twenty three million Africans will succumb to the AIDS epidemic by the year 2010 - a quarter of the sub-Saharan population. Nine mil lion children will be without mothers or fathers; five thousand adults are infected daily and the life expectancies of Zimbabwe's, Borswana's and Uganda's population halved. These terrifying statistics were highlighted by South African President Thabo Mbeki's controversial letter to Western heads of state.
Questioning the effectiveness of expensive cocktail drugs promoted by Western AIDS agencies to fight the disease, he ignited a political maelstrom by his highly personalized attack on long established medical theories. Going further, he also challenged the basically accepted premise that AIDS is a uniquely African catastrophe caused by the HIV virus itself.
"It would constitute a criminal betrayal of responsibility to our own people to mimic foreign approaches to treating the disease," President Mbeki wrote, "and we insist on South Africa's right to consult dissident scientists who deny that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS."
Prior to issuing his letter, and over his medical adviser's objections, President Mbeki consulted with David Rasnick, an ally of Berkeley biochemist Peter Duesberg, the best known proponent of the view that HIV does not cause AIDS and that treatment with drugs such as AZT does more harm than good.
Duesberg's questioning of the generally accepted theory that AIDS originated in Africa is quoted by President Mbeki in his letter which contends that the long held Western viewpoint that AIDS is a "uniquely African catastrophe" may be flawed. Known as an avid Internet browser, President Mbeki first came in contact with David Resnick's controversial web site while researching the origin of the AIDS epidemic.
In addressing his letter to Western Heads of State, President Mbeki has taken the AIDS issue out of the purely medical context and thrown it squarely into the political arena. As such, he has opened himself up to criticism from abroad, something the Clinton administration - which views the South African president as a valuable African ally--is trying at all costs to avoid.
Tremors of confusion
"South Africa's new democracy and advanced industry make it a natural leader on the continent," State Department AIDS czar Sandra Thurman contends, "and the issue of how to tackle the problem should nor degenerate into a slew of insults against President Mbeki for his controversial opinions.
President Mbeki's five page, hand-written correspondence has sent tremors of confusion through delegates slated to attend the July International Conference on AIDS in Durban, South Africa. Normally confined to a progress review of the disease's spread, the inclusion of President Mbeki's questioning of treatment specifics into the conference agenda has raised fundamental issues for international delegations.
"There has never been a significant international political controversy over AIDS," says one top level State Department official. "This could be the start of one."
So divisive are the issues raised in President Mbeki's letter that the Clinton administration restricted its distribution in an effort to prevent it becoming public. When this failed, senior U.S. policy officials would only confine their comments to areas of agreement in the South African President's correspondence.
"The letter was impassioned in parts, but I believe that much of its substance was quite logical and compelling," Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice said when reached in London. …