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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 01:11 GMT 02:11 UK
Mbeki defends Aids policy
President Mbeki has doubts whether HIV causes AIDS
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has defended his country's policy on HIV infection and Aids, reiterating his doubts about whether HIV causes the disease.

In a letter to world leaders, he said the epidemic was a "uniquely African catastrophe" and argued that using Western solutions to combat the disease would be absurd.

He said he wanted to avoid the "superimposition of Western experience on African reality" and claimed the African Aids epidemic was different from other countries.

To the distress and frustration of many experts, Mr Mbeki has been courting two US scientists who deny that HIV is the cause of Aids, despite the fact that nearly all experts agree that HIV causes Aids.

Treatment not available

The South African Government has refused to make AZT available in public clinics, saying that it is toxic even though studies have shown it can protect the babies of HIV-infected mothers.

Mbeki's comments come only a day after a survey revealed the Aids epidemic in South Africa has reached alarming new levels, with 10% of the population now infected with HIV. About 22% of pregnant women are HIV positive.

If South Africa declares that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, what impact is that going to have on the rest of the world?

Dr John Moore, Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Centre
The survey showed that in South Africa's worst-hit province - KwaZulu Natal - one in three women are HIV infected. The country's Health Ministry said half of those who were HIV positive were in their 20s.

"It is tragic that people are having to spend time and effort debating whether HIV is the cause of Aids when we should be discussing how to stop it," said Dr John Moore, a leading scientist at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Centre in New York.

"If South Africa declares that HIV is not the cause of Aids, what impact is that going to have on the rest of the world?"

Africa-wide problem

Mr Mbeki's comments are all the more controversial because South Africa is to host an international Aids 2000 conference in July, and some participants are reportedly considering boycotting the event.

South Africa's Deputy President Jacob Zuma said Mr Mbeki had never said that HIV definitely did not cause Aids.

"All we are saying is that the issues must be debated and all views are considered," Mr Zuma said.

Aids is now the leading cause of death in Africa, being responsible for one in five of all deaths in the continent last year, according to the United Nations.

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See also:

12 Nov 99 | Health
UK outlines 23m Aids package
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UN to forecast HIV rise
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Thousands unaware they have HIV
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Aids Africa's top killer
27 Nov 98 | Aids
Aids factfile UK
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Aids drugs factfile
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