New York Times, Economist Criticize Mbeki’s Recent Statements on HIV/AIDS
Two speeches that South African President Thabo Mbeki gave last month in which he "downplayed the problem" of HIV/AIDS, "exaggerated the toxicity of antiretroviral drugs and suggested that advocates for treating the disease are racist" demonstrate that "he remains badly misinformed" about the disease, a New York Times editorial says. While South Africa "should be a global leader in AIDS treatment," the government has "done nothing" to make antiretrovirals available to the poor, declining to accept "international offers or free or low-cost medication" and running "only a few programs" to reduce vertical transmission." The editorial states that it is "hard to understand how Mbeki, a reformer in many other ways, can be so irresponsible about AIDS." While "many politicians" in Mbeki's party, the African National Congress, "disagree with him" on HIV/AIDS, "virtually none," including Nelson Mandela, "speak out publicly, a testament to Mbeki's unhealthy level of control." The editorial, noting that Mbeki fought apartheid before entering politics, concludes: "Though it is hard to imagine a more malignant evil than apartheid, AIDS has already taken more South African lives. If Mbeki does not begin to address the crisis, millions more deaths will follow" (New York Times, 11/4).
Continuing his 'Misguided Views'
In a similar vein, an article in this week's Economist says that Mbeki "shows no sign of giving up his misguided views on AIDS." While Mbeki has "invited foreign scientists" to discuss the disease and "enourage[d]" South Africa's Medical Research Council to develop vaccines, he "rejects scientific consensus" that HIV causes AIDS. According to MRC chief William Makgoba, Mbeki "does not care that HIV 'has been investigated more thoroughly than almost any other virus in the history of science.'" Last week, the Economist states, Mbeki "attacked the use" of antiretrovirals while speaking to Parliament, citing revised U.S. HIV treatment guidelines stating that the drugs carry "serious toxicities." While the Economist concedes that the "side effects" of antiretrovirals "can be unpleasant," the "alternative is death," and Mbeki is "simply wrong to claim that the side effects are as dangerous as the disease." Finally, the Economist states that while Mbeki's administration has "dismissed" critics of its HIV/AIDS policies as "stooges for greedy companies," it is "government intransigence, not the cost of the drugs," that is the "real problem" (Economist, 11/3).