South Africa's AIDS Dispute Shows No Sign Of Resolution

By Nicole Itano | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Johannesburg ( - A much-anticipated AIDS report released by the South African government has drawn fire from political opposition leaders and activists for its failure to state definitively that HIV causes AIDS.

President Thabo Mbeki, who has previously expressed doubts publicly about the link between HIV and AIDS, commissioned the report early last year. Among the international experts he chose to serve on the panel that produced the report are a number of dissident scientists who reject a causal relationship between the two.

The sharply divided panel agreed on little except that more research needed to be done on the topic.

Key debates over issues such as whether anti-retroviral drugs should be given to HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent the spread of disease to their unborn children remained unresolved.

The lengthy report was primarily devoted to arguments over the link between HIV and AIDS, the efficacy of HIV tests and the appropriate way to measure the AIDS death toll.

Dissident scientists said in the report the South African government should consider using inexpensive "detoxification" methods such as music therapy and herbal remedies like garlic and ginseng, to strengthen immunity to AIDS. They also suggested that the country should stop screening blood donors.

AIDS activists and opposition politicians have called the report - which cost more than $300,000 and was more than a year in the making - a colossal waste of money they said would set back efforts to fight the disease in the world's most AIDS-ravaged country.

"We could have bought 50 million condoms with the amount of money in question," said Douglas Gibson of the Democratic Alliance, a grouping of opposition parties. "We could have provided much needed treatment. We could have provided educational facilities instead of wasting time and energy and money."

The government said the report was never intended to be conclusive and defended it as an important part of the intellectual debate surrounding the AIDS epidemic.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said it would not directly affect the country's AIDS policy.

Earlier this week it was reported that some of the world's largest drug firms have accused the South African government of failing to take up offers of cheap AIDS drugs despite the scale of the crisis.

An estimated 4.7 million South Africans are living with HIV-AIDS.