This denial was highlighted on an international level in 2000, when South African president Thabo Mbeki convened a group of panelists to discuss the cause of AIDS, acknowledging that he remained unconvinced that HIV was the cause. His ideas were derived at least partly from material he found on the Internet. Though Mbeki agreed later that year to step back from the debate, he subsequently suggested a re-analysis of health spending with a decreased emphasis on HIV/AIDS.
Though he’s not been publicly vocal about his views in recent years, it has been suggested that they’ve not changed–that he still remains unconvinced, at best, of HIV causation of AIDS. An article in today’s Guardian suggests he’s ready to start speaking on it again–and it’s the same old schtick:
President Thabo Mbeki remains an “Aids dissident” who has told a biographer that he regrets bowing to pressure from his cabinet to “withdraw from the debate” over the disease ravaging South Africa.
Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred describes how the president contacted the author earlier this year to reiterate some of the views that caused uproar in the medical community before Mr Mbeki stopped talking publicly about Aids several years ago. Mr Gevisser also describes how the president’s view of the disease was shaped by an obsession with race, the legacy of colonialism and “sexual shame”.
The book will reinforce the view of Mr Mbeki’s critics who say his unorthodox opinions have cost hundreds of thousands of lives by delaying the distribution of medicines, and that the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, has continued these views.
This may sound familiar to those who’ve read our PLoS Medicine paper (or who’ve simply dealt with pharma-phobic deniers) as well:
The president said he was seeking an open debate but portrayed those who disagreed with him – who include Nelson Mandela, trade union leaders whose members were dying in large numbers and Aids activists – as in the pay of the drug companies.
And while Mbeki attributes much power to “drug companies,” it sounds like many who’ve disagreed with his stance on AIDS have been fearful to tell him as much:
Mr Gevisser says that while Mr Mbeki has never explicitly denied the link between HIV and Aids, he is a “profound sceptic”. The issue came to a head in the cabinet in 2002 after Mr Mbeki’s political advisers and some ministers told him it was running out of control and damaging South Africa’s reputation, which had been so high under Mr Mandela’s leadership.
“What happened was not, quite, a rebellion,” writes Mr Gevisser. “Only one elected ANC representative, Pregs Govender, the chair of a parliamentary committee on the status of women, resigned and publicly criticised Mbeki. And even behind closed doors only one or two people actually had the courage to tell Mbeki they thought he was wrong.”