Mbeki appoints team to look at cause of AIDS

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 13 May 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1291
  1. Pat Sidley
  1. Johannesburg

    The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, last weekend hosted a meeting of more than 30 scientists for a two day discussion on HIV and AIDS—particularly on the aetiology of AIDS.

    At least half of the Presidential Advisory Panel on AIDS, as the group is now known, are scientists and doctors who have disputed the orthodox views on AIDS. Many of these do not believe HIV causes AIDS.

    The establishment of the panel has caused intense debate, and, together with President Mbeki's generally unorthodox approach to the looming AIDS catastrophe in South Africa, has caused concern in foreign governments, most notably the United States.

    At the end of the two day session a four person team was appointed (two “orthodox” scientists and two dissenting ones); this team will review scientific data and construct experiments to deal with questions that may as yet be unanswered.

    The team consists of Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, who is the president of South Africa's Medical Research Council and who aggressively supports the accepted scientific views on AIDS; Dr Helene Gayle of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, whose opinions are similar to those of Professor Makgoba; and Dr Peter Duesburg and Professor Harvey Bialy, both of whom believe no proof exists that HIV causes AIDS.

    The team and panel will work in a closed internet session for the next six to eight weeks and will then convene again in South Africa with suggestions for policy for President Mbeki.

    The meeting last weekend took place against the background of a letter written by President Mbeki to President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and several other world leaders, expressing his views on HIV and AIDS.

    The letter, which was leaked to the Washington Post, drew immediate fire from most commentators, as well as from the US administration. In the letter President Mbeki once again expressed his doubts that HIV causes AIDS.

    Both in the letter and at the launch of the meeting, President Mbeki construed the reaction to his views as similar to the tyranny experienced by the oppressed in South Africa during the apartheid era. “In an earlier period in human history, these [dissidents] would be heretics that would be burnt at the stake!” he said in the letter.

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