Conflicting Reports Over AIDS Deaths Cause Debate in South Africa
South African AIDS activists yesterday accused the government of "deliberately seeking to muddy the debate" over HIV/AIDS by issuing a report contradicting the findings of the country's top medical research group, Reuters reports. In a report to be released today, the government-funded Medical Research Council states that HIV/AIDS is already the cause of 40% of deaths among 15- to 49-year-olds and could kill up to seven million South Africans by 2010. However, a report compiled by Statistics South Africa, a government agency, used a lower HIV transmission rate and estimated that HIV/AIDS-related deaths will only reach one million by the end of the decade. The MRC report was leaked to several media outlets last month. Mark Heywood, national director of the Treatment Action Campaign, said that South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been criticized for questioning the causal link between HIV and AIDS, was using the statistics office as a "bull dog" to "ravage" the MRC's findings and support his views on the South African HIV/AIDS situation. "A damaging discussion has been set up and fueled by a government which instead of giving inconclusive political leadership is acting in a way that is alienating and damaging," Heywood added. Nkululeko Nxesi, director of the National Association of People Living with AIDS, called the debate over the findings a "waste of time," adding, "It doesn't matter whether it's three million people, 100 million people or 100 people. People are dying every day." Nxesi "urg[ed]" the government to "refocus" on disease education and treatment. The collection and analysis of AIDS data in South Africa is complicated because HIV/AIDS is not a notifiable disease and families do not frequently list the disease on death certificates because of the associated stigma (Swindells, Reuters, 10/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.