Mbeki Defends ‘Fleeting Reference’ to HIV/AIDS During Speech at African National Congress Conference
South African President Thabo Mbeki on Tuesday defended his "fleeting reference" to HIV/AIDS in a two-hour speech he delivered Monday at the opening of a five-day African National Congress conference, saying that the issue would be "adequately" covered in a party resolution, SAPA/BBC Monitoring reports. "There's a very long resolution on the matter," Mbeki said at a press conference. According to SAPA/BBC Monitoring, Mbeki did not mention HIV or AIDS in the short time it took him to reply to the question on the epidemic (SAPA/BBC Monitoring, 12/17). Mbeki's administration has faced "constant criticism" from sources both in and outside of South Africa for its lack of action in the fight against HIV/AIDS. According to Reuters, although Mbeki has rescinded his previous opinion that HIV does not cause AIDS, advocates "question the sincerity of his conversion" (Kotch/Boyle, Reuters, 12/16). Mbeki's government has yet to formulate a plan to distribute the "appropriate drugs" to HIV-positive people, despite a court ruling affirming South African citizens' constitutional right to antiretroviral treatment, the Los Angeles Times reports (Moore, Los Angeles Times, 12/17). South Africa has the highest number of HIV-positive people in the world, but few have access to medications because nearly half of the country's population live in poverty (Agence France-Presse, 12/16). Mbeki's only reference to HIV/AIDS came when he noted that more black people than white people have contracted the disease in South Africa (Los Angeles Times, 12/17). Mbeki became "[v]isibly vexed" toward the end of his speech when former South African President and AIDS treatment advocate Nelson Mandela entered the room. The relationship between Mandela and Mbeki has "grown sour" in the past year, after Mandela began "prodding" Mbeki's government to begin distributing free or inexpensive drugs to impoverished people with HIV/AIDS (Carroll, Guardian, 12/17). Conference attendees on Monday approved a mandate for Mbeki to lead the ANC for another seven years. His re-election as leader of the ANC means Mbeki will be the ANC's automatic candidate for president in South Africa's 2004 election (Reuters, 12/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.