The International AIDS conference is barely over, but already it’s getting results when it comes to working against stigma and combatting denial–and is receiving help from one U.S. politician. Stories after the fold…

First, from Buisness Day comes harsh words for South Africa’s leaders:

Former International AIDS Society president Mark Wainberg has launched a blistering attack on the South African government for failing to contain the country’s HIV epi demic, widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s worst.

Describing the government as “obtuse, dilatory and negligent” on the treatment front, he said: “It is the only country in Africa whose government continues to propound theories more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state. The government has a lot to atone for. I am of the opinion that they can never achieve redemption,” Lewis said.

More than 5,5-million South Africans, or one in nine citizens, have HIV. Between 600 and 800 die every day from the disease.

The world had sat back for far too long “watching SA continue to deteriorate” under denialist leaders, said Wainberg, who co- chaired the conference last week.

Millions of people had become infected while the health minister talked about lemon juice instead of bona fide means of preventing HIV transmission.

Of course, those who’ve followed many of the threads here know that lemon juice and garlic aren’t even the nuttiest ideas that many of these people put forth.

Wainberg lamented the lack of progress since the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban in 2000, where President Thabo Mbeki suggested poverty, not a virus, was the main cause of AIDS.

“We went to the Durban meeting, expecting a South African government that would be on the same side as with us. Instead, we found a denialist president who turned his back on us… and who began to convene committees that would articulate on his behalf that somehow it was in dispute whether or not HIV was truly the cause of AIDS,” he said.

“We were all completely taken aback, we were all insulted.

“I for one am no longer prepared to take a back seat as a scientist and not express my personal concern that this situation seems to have continued unabated,” he said.

Wainberg isn’t the only one going on the offensive. Illinois Senator Barack Obama, whose father immigrated from Kenya, is traveling in Africa, and has criticized the South African government and their response to AIDS:

Barack Obama, the only black U.S. senator, criticized South African leaders on Monday for their slow response to AIDS and urged President Thabo Mbeki to take a tougher stand against Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

South African AIDS activists say Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has caused confusion by pushing traditional medicines and a recipe of garlic, beetroot, lemon and African potatoes to combat AIDS while underplaying the role of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.

Obama said Tshabalala-Msimang was making a terrible mistake.

“On the treatment side the information being provided by the minister of health is not accurate,” he told reporters outside an AIDS clinic in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township.

“It is not an issue of Western science versus African science, it is just science and it’s not right.”

Speaking later to journalists during the South African leg of an African tour, Obama said the government in neighboring Zimbabwe had been a disaster for that country.

And Barack doesn’t stop at merely criticizing the government’s response–he actively works to combat stigma regarding AIDS:

"That would be very good," Tutu said after holding talks with Obama. "It encourages other people who may be less brave to want to do that. It also helps to deal with the question of the stigma."

Always good news to hear American politicians emphasize the importance of evidence-based science, especially in light of how much US AIDS funding goes toward abstinence-only approaches to HIV prevention. Obama certainly can’t make policy changes all on his own (and as he says, he’s no Angelina Jolie), but it’s certainly a step on the right direction.

Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/15/Barack_Obama_portrait_2005.jpg/180px-Barack_Obama_portrait_2005.jpg

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Noble
    August 23, 2006

    It’s good to see that the tide is finally turning against the South African heath minister.

    I wonder whether Manto will ever have to justify her actions in a court of law.

    Several health officials and laboratory directors form Japan, France, Germany and Switzerland have been convicted of crimes related to the preventable infection of people with HIV through blood products.

    The people convicted were a) aware of the dangers of HIV and b) failed to act in time to prevent people getting infected with HIV.

    I would think there is a good case against Manto and Mbeki.

  2. #2 pat
    August 23, 2006

    Careful what you whish for Chris, one day you might find yourself staring up the wrong end of the populist barrel

  3. #3 caia
    August 23, 2006

    In college I wrote a paper on HIV in South Africa for a history class. I found one possible insight into leaders like Mbeki in one of the books I read for research, and it had to do with mindset. Under apartheid, the dominant white minority ideology held that Africans were inherently (morally, biologically) inferior to whites. People who became leaders in the anti-apartheid movement, like Mandela and Mbeki, had to question and assail this orthodoxy, had to be distrustful of accepted knowledge’s authority.

    Take this mindset and fast-forward to the AIDS crisis, and you have in Mbeki a leader who seeks out and values alternative theories, who may be predisposed to favor what is out of favor. His “skepticism” began as a desire to learn more, and he failed to recognize how scientifically out of step he was, or what the ramifications of giving official recognition to the skeptics.

    None of this excuses Mbeki’s policies and statements in recent years, and his health minister is waaaaay out of line, but I did find it useful in getting an actual answer to the rhetorical, “what is wrong with these people?”

  4. #4 pat
    August 23, 2006

    Considering the fact that the CDC, WHo et al. estimate the total SA death toll from AIDS for the year 2003 at around 250’000- 350-000 and that total mortality for SA for that same year lies between 420’000-460’000, there is little wonder that Mbeki is suspicious of HIV/AIDS and he is right to be cautious.

  5. #5 Chris Noble
    August 23, 2006

    Caia,
    I think you are completely correct in tracing Mbeki’s “HIV rethinking” to the legacy of the apartheid regime. Unfortunately this has lead to Mbeki and others to develop a false dichotomy between “African Science” and “Western Science” that is conflated with evils of the apartheid regime. Ironically, the “alternatives” that MBeki and his government have flirted with have largely been championed by westerners such as Peter Duesberg and Matthias Rath.

  6. #6 Chiefley
    August 24, 2006

    “Considering the fact that the CDC, WHo et al. estimate the total SA death toll from AIDS for the year 2003 at around 250’000- 350-000 and that total mortality for SA for that same year lies between 420’000-460’000, there is little wonder that Mbeki is suspicious of HIV/AIDS and he is right to be cautious.”

    Pat,
    That’s right. You wouldn’t want to rush right in and reduce the AID rate to 1 in 100 like Uganda over a mere 350,000 AIDs victims in one year. You would want to be cautious and wait for some real numbers, like perhaps in the millions.

  7. #7 pat
    August 24, 2006

    Chiefley,
    Tell me more about Uganda, please.

  8. #8 Michael
    August 24, 2006

    Pat, you said:

    there is little wonder that Mbeki is suspicious of HIV/AIDS and he is right to be cautious.

    Actually, considering that more than 80% of the so called AIDS and Mortalities and reportable disease and death are actually tuberculosis, according to the SA health department site, he is right to be suspicious and cautious.

    Of course, TB is blamed on immune deficiency caused by HIV, pretending of course, that TB was not epidemic even before the word AIDS was invented.

    Almost all of the TB cases are being called HIV/AIDS and when treated, are most often treated with drugs that do not even work on TB: namely, HIV ARV’s.

  9. #9 Chiefley
    August 25, 2006

    pat,
    Uganda reduced its AIDS adult prevalence from a high of about 31% of the population in the 80s to the present day 8% or so. This website below tells the story far better than I could.

    http://www.avert.org/aidsuganda.htm

    It was a multi-faceted campaign stressing education in abstinence, monogamous sex, and the use of condoms. It was a priority at all levels of government down to grass roots volunteer groups going from village to village.

  10. #10 pat
    August 25, 2006

    Thanks for the answer by hyperlink. Do the math for Uganda and wonder where all the dead went. 30% prevalence back in the early 90’s should mean a drop in the population yet Uganda registers one of the highest population growths on the planet so either the epidemic is not there or the %’s are wrong OR the myth about African super-libido is indeed true.

  11. #11 Dale
    August 25, 2006

    pat writes Do the math for Uganda and wonder where all the dead went. 30% prevalence back in the early 90’s should mean a drop in the population

    You write that as if it is a logical conclusion but really it isn’t. Population shrinks when birth rate is lower than death rate and although it isn’t true for all African countries, Uganda has an extremely high birth rate. According to the CIA world factbook, the average Ugandan woman has between 6 and 7 children and the median age is 15 (i.e. half the population was born after 1990). In contrast, the average American woman has 2 children and the median age is 36.

  12. #12 Chiefley
    August 26, 2006

    Dale,
    You ruined Pat’s day. Pat’s goal wasn’t to be rigorously scientific. Pat’s goal is to obstruct the good work of saving millions of people around the world from an agonizing death from AIDS.

  13. #13 Dale
    August 27, 2006

    Chiefley, Sadly I doubt that I have ruined Pat’s day at all. Pat will likely just ignore my comment and continue to post as before.

  14. #14 pat
    August 27, 2006

    Chiefly, I’m sorry that this discourse is over so quickly for you and your immature and passive-aggressive slur about me somehow wanting millions of people to die is unfounded and deeply insulting to me, not that you should care… And Dale, you’re insulting my intelligence by quoting the CIA “factbook”. You are living with your head up your rear end sideways. Every time that bunch opens its trap thousands die needless deaths. Yes, I’ll be back.

    PS; why could you just say that indeed the african libido lives up to its reputation?

  15. #15 pat
    August 28, 2006

    read: PS: why could you just say that indeed the african libido lives up to its reputation?
    should read: PS: why could’NT you just say that indeed the african libido lives up to its reputation?

  16. #16 Dale
    August 28, 2006

    Actually Pat, it would appear that by assuming you would just ignore my post rather than attempting to discredit the source of the information and the information itself, I gave you credit for more intelligence than you actually possess. The data that are used to estimate population growth are birth rates, death rates, fertility rates and population structure. How can you believe the population growth rate (which I assume you do since you were the one who posted that Uganda has one of the highest population growth rates on the planet) and yet dismiss the factors that contribute to it by turning them into some sort of racial indictment?

  17. #17 pat
    August 28, 2006

    “and yet dismiss the factors that contribute to it by turning them into some sort of racial indictment”

    The racial indictment comes from you and what I assume is your impression of african super-libido that manages miraculously to offset an assumed mega-death in that country but f..k you too because first you say I don’t care and now you’re attributing me with racial penchants. And again, your faith in the CIA is pathetic.

  18. #18 Dale
    August 28, 2006

    The CIA world factbook is a collation of data collected primarily by others. If you know of a source which disputes the claim that Uganda has a high birth rate and a high fertility rate, by all means cite it and if your source appears more reliable than other sources (including but not limited to the CIA world factbook) then I will retract my statement. As far as drawing the conclusion that a high fertility rate somehow implies a ‘super-libido'; again, that appears to be your conclusion, not mine. I would attribute more to a culture that values large families and/or a lack of access to birth control.

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