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The BBC's Ishbel Matheson
"It's diificult to get a straight answer from South African officials on HIV and Aids "
 real 28k

Judith Soal, health reporter Cape Times
"There's been quite a lot of concern and almost horror about the president's stance"
 real 28k

Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
SA Government steps into Aids row
South African baby
There is evidence that drugs can halt HIV transmission to babies
The South African Government has responded to a document by members of the ruling party's health committee, which called on President Thabo Mbeki to drop his controversial stance that HIV may not be the only cause of Aids.

A government statement issued on Thursday says Mr Mbeki has never denied that Aids is caused by the HIV virus.

Mr Mbeki and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang have recently come under increasing pressure to clarify the government's position on Aids.

On Wednesday, Aids activists demonstrated outside parliament in Cape Town demanding that Aids drugs be made available to pregnant women.

And the past week has seen an acrimonious row between the government and a private radio station, following an interview in which the health minister would not state her position on the links between Aids and HIV.

The government's statement on Thursday said that "neither the President nor his Cabinet colleagues have ever denied a link between HIV and Aids".

The statement said an interview with Mr Mbeki published in Time magazine could have led to misunderstanding over the president's position.

"The context of the full transcript makes it expressly clear that he was prepared to accept that HIV might 'very well' be a causal factor," the statement said.

Confidential document

This followed the Cape Times's publication of parts of a confidential document drawn up by the health commitee of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

President Thabo  Mbeki
Mbeki: Has questioned whether HIV causes Aids
It calls on President Mbeki and Dr Tshabalala-Msimang to acknowledge that HIV causes Aids.

"The predominant scientific view that HIV causes Aids is the view that the ANC, its leadership and its membership has to publicly express," the document said, as quoted by the Cape Times.

The ANC said in a statement that the document was a discussion paper which did not reflect the views of the party.

About 200 members of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) joined the demonstration in Cape Town, calling on the government to make available the anti-Aids drugs which can stop mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus.

The government has so far refused to make the costly drugs available, saying their efficacy has not been proved.

Heated interview

Last week, Dr Tshabalala-Msimang became embroiled in a controversy over a document which her office had distributed to senior officials around the country, suggesting that Aids was the work of international conspirators who were trying to reduce Africa's population.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
Tshabalala-Msimang: Controversy over "conspiracy" document
The health ministry insisted later that the document - a photocopied chapter from William Cooper's book "Behold, a Pale Horse" - had been distributed for information purposes, and that the ministry did not necessarily endorse its contents.

But the incident gave rise to an acrimonious interview on the privately-owned Radio 702.

Click here to read excerpts from the interview.

Interviewer John Robbie repeatedly asked Dr Tshabalala-Msimang whether she agreed with the generally-accepted view that HIV causes Aids - but she did not answer the question.

Towards the end of the live interview she rebuked Robbie for addressing her by her first name, while he dismissed her views as "rubbish".

The ANC has called for Robbie's dismissal, and Primedia, the company which owns Radio 702, apologised over the incident.

But station manager Dan Moyane has defended John Robbie and distanced himself from the Primedia's apology.

The matter has been referred to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

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See also:

14 Jul 00 | Health
Pressure on Mbeki over Aids
14 Sep 00 | Africa
'Don't call me Manto'
11 Jul 00 | Africa
Aids threat to Africa's economy
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