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Aids: Mandela takes on Mbeki
President Mandela has spoken out on Aids
Former South African president Nelson Mandela appears to have launched an attack on his successor's controversial Aids policy.

In a newspaper interview published on Friday, Mr Mandela repudiates the South African government's statements challenging the link between HIV and Aids.

Current president Thabo Mbeki says he will not accept that the virus causes the illness unless it is proved again by a panel of experts he has set up.

Mbeki
President Mbeki holds a controversial stance
Mr Mandela told the interviewer that he would respect "the dominant opinion" - that is that HIV causes Aids, unless real proof emerges that it does not.

And he warned Mbeki: "I would like to be very careful because people in our positions, when you take a stand, you might find that established principles are undermined, sometimes without scientific backing."

The South African government's stance on Aids has proved embarrassing in recent months, particularly when Durban hosted a world conference on Aids earlier this year.

Fastest spread

More than 10% of South Africans - about 4.2m people - carry the virus, and some experts say the disease is spreading faster there than anywhere else on earth.

Public health experts say that denying the link between the virus and the illness may dilute the message to HIV-positive people that they should take precautions to avoid spreading the virus through sexual intercourse.

Antiretroviral drugs are not widely available, and would represent a major expenditure on an already desperately stretched health budget.

However, many campaigners, while recognising this, want Mr Mbeki to at least spend some money giving the drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women, as this would greatly reduce the chances of passing the virus to their children.

However, only one South African minister from the ruling African National Congress party, Membathisi Mdladlana, has strayed from the government line by stating publicly that HIV causes Aids.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told a news conference last week that she had never denied a link, but refused to state that HIV caused Aids.

In parliament last week, Mr Mbeki said that he believed that a virus could never cause a syndrome.

Internationally, scientists say that the link between the virus and Aids is well-established by robust research.

See also:

26 May 00 | Health
01 Jul 00 | Health
14 Jul 00 | Health
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