HIV/AIDS Advocates, Scientists Call for South African Health Minister To Resign
HIV/AIDS advocates and scientists, including a U.S. Nobel laureate, on Tuesday in a letter to South African President Thabo Mbeki called for Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to step down and protested the government's response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, Tshabalala-Msimang has recommended a diet of potato, lemon and garlic to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 9/5). Government spokesperson Themba Masekoa said Mbeki's cabinet at a meeting yesterday "rejected, unreservedly, all the unfounded claims that we don't have a comprehensive program to fight the pandemic." Maseko added that the budget for South Africa's HIV/AIDS program "has grown by no less than a hundred-fold over the past 12 years" (SAPA/Business Day, 9/7). The AP/Washington Post reports that Mbeki's cabinet has defended Tshabalala-Msimang, saying that incorrect information about South Africa's HIV/AIDS treatment program was being passed around the world, according to the AP/Post (Leonard, AP/Washington Post 9/6). Last month, HIV/AIDS advocates from the South Africa-based HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign held protests in a number of cities across the country, as well as at South African embassies in the U.S. and Canada, calling for Tshabalala-Msimang to resign and protesting South Africa's HIV/AIDS treatment program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/28). A total of 81 signatories in the letter called for "an end to the disastrous pseudo-scientific policies that have characterized the South African government's response to HIV/AIDS." The signatories also said that the evidence supporting antiretroviral drugs as the only currently available treatment for HIV is "overwhelming and beyond dispute," and credited "scientists and clinicians based in South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent" with helping advance HIV science. According to the signatories, "Slick marketing practices cause people not to take proven medications, or at best to waste money on false hopes. We condemn all those who profit from this type of quackery, at the expense of the sick and dying" (Letter, 9/4). The letter also said a laudable government program that aims to treat 380,000 people with antiretrovirals has treated fewer than half the amount targeted. Among the signatories were 65 scientists, including Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology and Harvard University AIDS researcher Daniel Kuritzkes (Wall Street Journal, 9/5). Robert Gallo, who co-discovered HIV and developed the first test for the virus, also signed the letter (BBC News, 9/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.