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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Aids: Are Western solutions 'absurd'?

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has sparked new controversy over Aids.

In a letter to world leaders, he says using Western solutions to combat the disease would be absurd. He argues that the epidemic is a "uniquely African catastrophe" and questions whether HIV really causes the disease.

He said he wanted to avoid the "superimposition of Western experience on African reality".

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

So is he right? Is the West guilty of ramming western solutions down Africa's throats? Or is Presidient Mbeki putting lives at risk by flying in the face of medical opinion?

HAVE YOUR SAY What rubbish, AIDS and HIV is pandemic and needs a global solution not pathetic childish fighting between countries trying to gain some kind of feudal popularity contest. True, the western economies probably could flood the African continent with HIV therapeutic drugs but why, so some corrupt tin-pot leader as Mbeki appears to be developing into can line their own pockets. Bring back Mandela at least he could see a vision beyond his own popularity.
Reece Da Costa, UK



Educating the masses might be a start, but educating the leaders may prove more fruitful in the near future.

Neil Hastings, USA
The only solutions available to Africa are Western. What solution does Mbeki propose? I've seen enough African solutions to convince me that civil wars, starvation, economic collapse, rampant crime, genocide, corruption, kidnapping, non-existent health care do not seem to have worked. Educating the masses might be a start, but educating the leaders may prove more fruitful in the near future.
Neil Hastings, USA

So the UK and US people knows the solutions to Africa do they?
You don't understand Africa my dear armchair liberalists. They will burn to the ground, and blame you. They will insist that AIDS is your problem. Doing election duties some of them insisted that AIDS stands for "American Independents Discouraging Sex".
They are not about to use birth control devices. They are not about to have safe sex. They will blame you for it, insist on your help and total support, and then blame you for not having prevented it, looked after the AIDS orphans, for not having given them the same education as your kids, and for the few you have, they will blame you for those you could do all of the above for failing.
Absurd? Nope - we in South Africa are already blamed for it - with your support I might add.
William McCarthy, South Africa



How dare the drug companies refuse to share their discoveries with the people who really need them?

Lee Zaslofsky, Canada
South Africa is the most westernised of African countries. It is ludicrous for Mbeki to single out AIDS as the focus for his "anti-colonialism" while he collaborates fully with Western corporations and governments on every other question.
The high prices demanded by the drug companies -- which are backed by Western governments -- is the real scandal here. Must millions be sacrificed on the altar of "intellectual property rights"? How dare the drug companies refuse to share their discoveries with the people who really need them?
And how long must we wait for the real solution to this problem: a cheap, effective vaccine that can break the chain of infection? To be used, of course, in conjunction with retroviral drugs for those already infected, who must not be written off.
I can understand Mbeki's frustration with the drug companies' greed, but he is on the worst possible track. I wonder how he will dare to show his face to the World AIDS Conference, which meets in July in Durban.
Lee Zaslofsky, Canada

Mike Musuya is right to say in his letter that AIDS in Africa is a social problem. All research work has pointed to the sexual beliefs for the rampant spread of HIV through heterosexual sex. What Mbeki probably means is this that unless the basic beliefs and practices are changed HIV will continue to be transmitted from one person to another.
About AIDS as a disease, everyone, who has even a little knowledge of HIV/AIDS knows that it's the opportunistic infections that kill the person who has HIV. In South Asian countries TB is the most common disease that people with HIV die of. I hope African health workers and social scientist would find a solution to contain the loss of people in their prime years to HIV.
Vibha Joshi, India/UK

No. The man is out of control. (In a Western country at least there would be a system whereby someone could rein him in.) When someone uses a word like "absurd" in this context it speaks volumes about him, and his approach, and says nothing about the people he presumes to be addressing. It's otherwise known as projection.
E. Shore, USA



I would agree with the Chinese that it doesn't matter what colour the cat is as long as it catches the mice.

Wilcliff, Zambia
No one has a monopoly on knowledge. A devastating disease, such as AIDS, needs the combined efforts of all around the world. I would agree with the Chinese that it doesn't matter what colour the cat is as long as it catches the mice. We need any remedy, whether Western or African to deal with AIDS.
Wilcliff, Zambia

I'm afraid President Mbeki is painfully right when he says that Western solutions are not right for Africa, because there is simply no money for that. But it's also painful to read that he is denying the existence of Aids. By doing this and probably turning to witch-doctors etc. he denies his people the proven curing effects of the available drugs. And I can assure him myself that they work!
Jan, Holland

Let the Africans decide for themselves what is best. Perhaps they can come up with solutions the west has not. If western governments believe the African's treatment of Aids is cause for alarm then let the western governments publish traveller's advisories and take precautions when Africans enter western countries. But, leave them alone to decide for themselves how best to treat Aids in Africa.
Chris Josephson, USA

Are western solutions absurd? I don't know. I just know that the "bury-your-head-in-the-sand" approach taken by governments in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa have proven to be miserable failures. If Thabo Mbeki can come up with a solution to stop the tidal wave, so to speak, more power to him. But the current approach of ignoring the problem in the hopes that it will go away has not worked.
Brian Farenell, USA

Only the Africans know what is best for them. I think Europeans should keep out of all African affairs.
Zuorif Maasry, Sweden

It is possible (though unlikely in this day and age) that there are diseases in Africa that have not yet been introduced in the West and vice versa. In the case in question, the vast majority of the medics are agreed that HIV causes the Aids virus found in Africa. In any case since AZT has been found to work it is plain foolish to deny its use to sufferers whose choices and chances of survival are dangerously limited as it stands.
Simon Cameron, UK



Mbeki's comments have been deliberately twisted out of context.

Al, Canada
Mbeki's comments have been deliberately twisted out of context. The "uniquely African phenomenon" he refers to is the fact that nowhere else in the world is AIDS at these epidemic levels. This is true. The point of his letter was to defend his decision not to exclude any hypotheses from the universe of possible solutions. This is in part a reflection of the desperation and earnestness with which he views the impact that AIDS has not only on his country but on the continent. It was not too long ago that the medical establishment firmly believed that bleeding a patient was the best thing for them.
Al, Canada

All possible angles should be explored. Let scientific methods prove wrong those who say HIV does not cause AIDS. What if they are right? They have to be heard. Why should we shut them up? Let them prove a point to us...
Clement Chiwaya, Malawian student in USA

AIDS is not a uniquely African problem. It is a world problem, although Africa is probably hardest hit by the epidemic. I think it's absurd for the South African government to ban AZT, which will drastically extend the lives of AIDS victims and lessen their suffering. Many AIDS cases in Africa is spread by old fashioned medical techniques - reusing needles, not screening blood, not sterilising tools, etc.
Jeff, USA

President Mbeki is making a tragic mistake. As a person of African descent in the US I beg him and all concerned to put aside all nationalism and politics and to reconsider their position. Focus only on how to prevent the loss of millions of innocent black lives due to the spread of HIV. Forget the Duesberg crowd who nobody takes seriously in the US.
Don Robotham, New York, USA



America should be more concerned about controlling the epidemic among it's own populace

Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK (in US)
The whole controversy is a direct ramification not of Mr Thabo Mbeki's comments, but of American interference in affairs which are "solely African". America should be more concerned about controlling the epidemic among it's own populace, rather than those of other nations. It is this fact which the American government does not appear to grasp. If America supplied the necessary equipment and training to contain the disease, I am sure that other nations would use it.
Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK (in US)

If Mr Mbeki does not want western help to combat Aids, so be it. Blame colonialism, Mr Mbeki, if it will keep your constituents happy while they wait to die. In the meantime, please send assistance to countries who appreciate the work being done to combat this global problem.
JB Porkah, Algeria

Instead of quibbling over the details, we need to focus on the problem...Africa is loosing its ability to repopulate. The disease is killing us. Sure some western solutions might not apply, or we might want to be bound into using AZT. One has to focus on getting the epidemic stopped or at least slowed. In Africa, I believe education is the key.
Due to our lack of funds, treating the infected will be extremely taxing on the limited capital resources. If we can decrease the number of new infections, we will accomplish more than what current medical solutions can provide. The AIDS issue in Africa is not a medical problem, but a social behaviour problem. Let us fight the disease now, while we still have a chance; and we can later hold forums to discuss whether HIV causes AIDS or where the disease originated. All I know it that people are dying at an increasing rate and being infected by a disease that was discovered over 15 years ago.
Mike Msuya, US/Tanzania

It maybe that we in the west are not educated in the ways of African life. Is African anatomy so different that the disease behaves differently in an African host (yes tongue is planted firmly in cheek)?
Jose S., USA



Rather than trigger unnecessary racial emotions African leaders should evolve a system whereby the poor has the same right to health and life as the rich.

Wole, Nigeria
After hearing the voice of South Africa's president, I think we must all now accept there is a great problem in that country! The problem here is definitely not AIDS but a pathologic tendency to brand anything un-African as wrong. This would be right if Africa had an immediately viable alternative to the "white man's solution". In the absence of that, I think Africa should accept the tried and tested solution for now. That is until we are able to come up with our own solution! Rather than trigger unnecessary racial emotions African leaders should evolve a system whereby the poor has the same right to health and life as the rich.
Wole, Nigeria

Hang on a minute...we are referring to the actions of an independent state here. Who are we to tell them how they should tackle a problem that we have failed to tackle ourselves? We are all grown-ups: why do western governments - particularly in the USA - insist on treating Africa like a child? I it really surprising when they treat their own people like children incapable of governing their own lives?
Phil Saum, UK

I have an awful feeling that we are watching a continent die. I believe the Dodo and the Ostrich would make fitting mascots for the various governments that refuse to really tackle the issue.
Bob, UK

With HIV on the increase among young heterosexual females in the UK, how much can we really teach those in Africa? Our solutions are flawed no - wonder they are rejected.
Sarah, UK



I am quite sure that Mbeki is just trying to break the power of Western Drug companies who patent solutions, thus making them unaffordable

Jose Fernandez, Netherlands
I am quite sure that Mbeki is just trying to break the power of Western Drug companies who patent solutions, thus making them unaffordable. Besides that AZT is not the only drug available on the market and usually AZT is administered in combination with other drugs. Not allowing AZT doesn't mean that South Africa (or Mbeki) is not doing anything to combat Aids, because they are. They are just doing it without the brand AZT. Power to them.
Jose Fernandez, Netherlands

I agree entirely with Thabo Mbeki that is astounding to see this international campaign to prevent further inquiry into the origins of AIDS. Obviously, there are many in Europe and North America who are gladly propagating the myth that AIDS originated in African primates; naturally, they would like to see any research that could disprove this racist science abandoned. I urge Mbeki on behalf of the much slandered African race not to submit to intimidation by Europe and North America and press on with the research into the real causes of AIDS in Africa.
Ndubisi Obiorah, Nigeria

Clearly, those uniquely African solutions have only made the situation hopelessly worse.
Ubong Effeh, UK (Nigerian)

...and they wonder why we don't take African countries and their leaders seriously...
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

One stark reality for South Africa will be a missing generation in about 10 years time.
Colin, Netherlands

If viewed from a Western viewpoint, as many of us are forced to because we have no other frame of reference, then Mbeki's comments do seem absurd. We try to impose Western ways in Africa and we wonder why they fail. We assume that what works for us will work everywhere else. Africa is not the West and needs its own unique solutions. This is Mbeki's point. Unfortunately most seem to have missed that. In this context Mbeki is correct - Western solutions are absurd.
Richard Walls, Belgium



The success of Uganda's approach has been dependent on appropriate medical education, clinical management and sustainability of access to drugs and diagnostics.

John Nevitt, UK
President Mbeki may think Western treatments are absurd in the African context but he would be absurd to ignore the huge progress made by Ugandan President Yoweri Musevni in conjunction with the UNAIDS pilot study. He quickly introduced an AIDS programme after coming to power in 1986 following his successful military coup and when it was discovered that 25% of service personnel and senior officers may be HIV positive. In the following ten years the infection rate in the general population was reduced from 30% to 14%.

Anti-retroviral therapy was swiftly introduced to reduce mother-to-child transmission and participation in the pilot had the benefit of Uganda receiving discounted drugs from major pharmaceutical companies who themselves found a market which did not previously exist. The success of Uganda's approach has been dependent on appropriate medical education, clinical management and sustainability of access to drugs and diagnostics. This is surely proof that these treatments should not be dismissed and the costs need to be balanced against the economic cost of the loss to aids, of large proportions of Africa's population of working age and resultant orphaned children.
John Nevitt, UK

These kinds of comments do nothing for the battle with this terrible disease. The lack of understanding in Africa is the very reason why up to 1 in 3 of the people living in certain regions have the HIV virus. This is likely to become the greatest killer of the 21st century, far beyond that of malaria.
Tom, UK



Mbeki is partly right: western solutions (medication) will not be possible in Africa:

Johan Vanrusselt, Belgium
Mbeki is partly right: western solutions (medication) will not be possible in Africa: the cost will be too high, the patient compliance will be to low , the medical infrastructure is simply not up to it. But this does not alter the fact that HIV causes aids, no matter the way of infection (sexually, vaginal, anal, by blood products ). A very important factor is the prevention. The only African country with a relatively good result with this seems to be Uganda.
Instead of doubting the obvious (the virus causing aids), Mbeki and the South African government should put a high priority on prevention. It is simply unbelievable that this takes so much time. Undoubtedly some people will still argue that the world is flat. Should they receive an international forum? Sadly Mbeki is providing such a forum for a similar nonsense opinion.
Johan Vanrusselt, Belgium

As a young gay Asian male I find Mbeki's comments absurd when he says that HIV is transmitted among homosexuals in Western Society. This is a disease we must ALL contend with.
Ajit Rehal, UK

If western medical findings on AIDS are accurate then it should be taken as such. I would sooner trust the results of even a fallible scientific process than the whims of someone who thinks AIDS is a 'uniquely African' problem. We should all base our decisions on what is real, not on whimsical ideas.
Peter James, UK

Whether countries choose to accept particular medical opinion is up to them. Certainly the cost of treatment using Western medicines is probably a factor. But his view, based on those of two fringe US scientists, flies in the face of medical opinion the world over and he is undoubtedly taking a huge gamble with the lives of South Africa's population.
Paul R, UK

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