South Africa appoints another dissident

Graham McKerrow, HIV i-Base

The South African government has revived controversy about its AIDS policy by appointing an AIDS dissident, Roberto Giraldo, to a team of experts advising the government on how to combat HIV.

The move follows strenuous efforts by South Africa to distance itself from the dissidents – who question the link between HIV and AIDS – in the wake of President Thabo Mbeki’s repeatedly voiced sympathies for dissident views. The appointment also follows the appointment two years ago of other AIDS dissidents to a presidential advisory board on AIDS.

Mbeki and AIDS dissidents who influence him believe AIDS is caused by poverty and a combination of other infections, and that antiretroviral drugs also cause AIDS.

The South African opposition Democratic Alliance has reacted to the appointment of Dr Giraldo by calling for the resignation of the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang who has long had the full support of the president. The minister said Dr Giraldo would only be offering advice on how to use diet to boost people’s immune systems.

Again Ms Tshabalala-Msimang tried to distance herself from controversy surrounding the president’s dissident views on the link between HIV and AIDS, telling newspapers: “I think we are past that stage. Our own strategic plan is based on the premise that HIV causes AIDS. I am only looking [to Dr Giraldo] for expertise on nutrition.”

Meanwhile few positive South Africans can access ARVs and 200,000 are expected to die this year. The Treatment Action Campaign is launching a campaign of civil disobedience to back up its demand that treatment is made more widely available by the government.

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