Interview von Joan Shenton mit Präsident Mbeki

Sitting Down with President Mbeki
16 APR 00

A sense that new information could bring real solutions to AIDS will be driving President Thabo Mabuchi's international panel. High on the agenda will be the issue of AZT and pregnant women.

JOAN SHENTON : Last year you were reported in Parliament as being concerned about giving AZT to pregnant mothers. Why were you concerned?

PRESIDENT MBEKI : Well, because lots of questions had been raised about the toxicity of the drug, which is very serious. We as the government have the responsibility to determine matters of public health, and therefore we can take decisions that impact directly on human beings, and it seemed to me that doubts had been raised about the toxicity and the efficacy of AZT and other drugs, so it was necessary to go into these matters. It wouldn't sit easily on one's conscience that you had been warned and there could be danger, but nevertheless you went ahead and said let's dispense these drugs.

JOAN SHENTON : Some AIDS doctors say the evidence is overwhelming that AIDS exists and AZT is of benefit. What is your comment on that?

PRESIDENT MBEKI : I say that why don't we bring all points of view. Sit around a table and discuss this evidence, and produce evidence as it may be, and let's see what the outcome is, which is why we are having this International panel which we are all talking about. They may very well be correct, but I think if they are correct and they are convinced they are correct, it would be a good thing to demonstrate to those who are wrong, that they are wrong.

JOAN SHENTON : People say you are not keen on giving AZT to pregnant women because it is too expensive and in some ways you are seen as penny-pinching. What do you reply to that?

PRESIDENT MBEKI : That surely must be a concern to anyone who decides this drug must be given to stop transmissions, again from mother to child, which is extremely costly and must be taken into account. But we also need in that context to answer the particular questions of toxic effect of this drug. If you sit in a position where decisions that you take would have a serious effect on people, you can't ignore a lot of experience around the world which says this drug has these negative effects.

JOAN SHENTON : Why have you been so outspoken recently about greed and the pharmaceutical companies?

PRESIDENT MBEKI : I think a lot of the discussion that needs to take place about the health and treatment of people does seem to be driven by profit. We've had a long wrangle with the pharmaceutical industry about parallel imports, and what we were saying is we want to make medicines and drugs as affordable as a possible to what is largely a poor population. We need to find these medicines that are properly controlled, properly tested, the general product and no counterfeits.

JOAN SHENTON : In the press you are exhorted to confine yourself to the job to which you were elected, and leave specific subjects to the taking of best available advice.

PRESIDENT MBEKI : I don't imagine Heads of Government would ever be able to say I'm not an economist therefore I can't take decisions on matters of the economy; I'm not a soldier I can't take decisions on matters of defence; I'm not an educationist so I can't take decisions about education. I don't' particularly see why health should be treated as a specialist thing and the President of a country can't take Health decision. I think it would be a dereliction of duty if we were to say as far as health issues are concerned we will leave it to doctors and scientists, or as far as education is concerned we will leave it to educationists and pedagogues. I think the argument is absurd actually.

JOAN SHENTON : How do you feel about the reaction of your country's leading virologists and intellectuals to your position?

PRESIDENT MBEKI : I get a sense that we've all been educated into one school of thought. I'm not surprised at all to find among the overwhelming majority of scientists, are people who would hold one particular view because that's all they're exposed to. This other point of view, which is quite frightening, this alternative view in a sense has been blacked out. It must not be heard, it must not be seen, that's the demand now. Why is Thabo Mbeki talking to discredited scientists, giving them legitimacy. It's very worrying at this time in the world that any point of view should be prohibited, that's banned, there are heretics that should be burned at the stake. And it's all said in the name of science and health. It can't be right.

JOAN SHENTON : Now it has been said that the pharmaceutical industry is more powerful than government. Are you going to take this debate to other world leaders like President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair or the Prime Minister of India who has expressed support for an investigation into these issues, as you are?

PRESIDENT MBEKI : Certainly I want to raise the matter with politicians around the world, at least get them to understand the truth about this issue, not what they might see on television or read in newspapers. And we were very glad to see India get themselves involved in this issue. The concern around probable questions, which in a sense have been hidden, will grow around the world and the matter is critical, the reason we are doing all this is so we can respond correctly to what is reported to be a major catastrophe on the African continent. We have to respond correctly and urgently. And you can't respond correctly by closing your eyes and ears to any scientific view that is produced. A matter that seems to be very clear in terms of the alternative view, is what do you expect to happen in Africa with regard to immune systems, where people are poor, subject to repeat infections and all of that. Surely you would expect their immune systems to collapse.

I have no doubt that is happening. But then to attach such important defence to a virus produces restrictions and what we are disappointed about as an Africa government is that it seems incorrect to respond to this AIDS challenge within a narrow band. If we only said safe sex, use a condom, we won't stop the spread of AIDS in this country.

Französische Wissenschaftler angeblich "geschockt" wegen Mbekis Äußerungen. Enthält geballte Verleumdungen gegen Prof. Duesberg.

Agence France Presse, April 21, 2000, Friday
HEADLINE: Mbeki stance on AIDS leaves scientists in a daze
BYLINE: Philippe Coste

Top French specialists voiced shock Friday at South African President Thabo Mbeki's defence of alternative medical approaches to AIDS, and dismissed as a "provocateur" the US researcher Mbeki has cited in support of his stance.

Mbeki has made an impassioned defence of California biologist Peter Duesberg, who theorises that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) does not cause AIDS and that the mainstream treatment, AZT, does more harm than good.

Professor Michel Kazatchkine, head of the French AIDS research agency, said: "I'm concerned, saddened and dumbfounded by what President Mbeki says, because it lends credibility to scientific theories not at all recognised by the scientific community."

"Questioning the responsibility of the virus for causing AIDS is like turning things on their head and winding the clock back 20 years," Kazatchnine said.

Professor Jacques Leibowitch, prominent in the development of AIDS treatments, said: "Duesberg is a provocateur whom scientists have not had the courage to ostracise. He is exploiting a lot of false arguments with a tiny bit of truth in them.

"His theory is still being taken seriously because we don't yet have a treatment that can cure AIDS and whose use in developing countries can be justified."

In a letter to President Clinton published in The Washington Post, Mbeki insisted on his government's right to consult dissident scientists and accused unnamed foreign critics of waging a "campaign of intellectual intimidation and terrorism" akin to "the racist apartheid tyranny we opposed".

Leibowitch said Duesberg had been "developing this specious argument for years, maintaining that since there's no clear relationship between the amount of virus present in the organism and the speed of the illness, the virus can't be responsible for the illness."

Speculation in medical circles is that at the heart of Mbeki's stance is the fact that South Africa simply cannot afford the prohibitive cost of the "cocktail" of antiHIV drugs to treat the ever-increasing number of those infected with the disease.

The treatment, which costs 10,000 dollars per patient per year, suppresses the virus but does not eliminate it.

Leibowitch suggested Mbeki might be quoting Duesberg's ideas "in order to negotiate better with western countries and pharmaceutical companies" to build hospitals and laboratories to provide AIDS care more cheaply. If this were the case, Kazatchkine said, Mbeki was being extremely clumsy. "He has no need to deny the root cause of the illness in order to obtain more aid from fund sources."

Politicisation of the debate on AIDS treatment in South Africa might dissuade some specialists from attending the Durban international AIDS conference in July, he added.

"Specialists wish to exchange ideas and study each other's work, but have no desire to get caught in the middle of a a political tugofwar," Leibowitch warned.

Professor Luc Montagnier, the pioneer who discovered HIV, told the daily Liberation there was little risk of a boycott, as the conference was being organised by the International AIDS Society, not by South Africa. He expressed sympathy with Africa's huge problems with AIDS and said it was sound to think there could be "cofactors" that promoted the spread of AIDS, although there remained only one cause, which was HIV.

"The problem is that South Africa is a major country, and President Mbeki's statements may encourage other (hardline) stances. You have to convert people by rational argument, not by waging a war against them."

A decision by Mbeki to include dissident scientists on a panel of experts studying measures to counter AIDS is provoking angry debate in South Africa, a country where 4.2 million people more than one in 10 of the population are HIVpositive.

Opposition parties in South Africa criticised Mbeki Thursday. New National Party member of parliament Kobus Gous accused him of "giving a podium to discredited scientists," likening his actions to "consulting flat-earthists."

Auch im nachstehenden Artikel taucht der Begriff des "Flat-Earthers" bzw. "Flat-Earthist" auf. Damit sollen die "rückständigen" AIDS-Kritiker verunglimpft werden. Unglücklich ist der Vergleich deshalb, weil die Flat-Earthers damals eben nicht die sektiererische Minderheit war, als welche Duesberg und Co. heute dargestellt werden, sondern die Scheibentheorie war gegen jegliche wissenschaftliche Beweisführung der damaligen Außenseiter von der Mehrheit "anerkannt". Parallelen sind also durchaus gegeben...

San Francisco Examiner
Friday, April 21, 2000

AIDS skeptic gets boost from South Africa
Scientific world frustrated at new attention focused on HIV denial

By Paul Salopek
Chicago Tribune

Johannesburg -- When UC-Berkeley biochemist David Rasnick answered his cell phone recently, he scarcely could have imagined that the call would touch off the world's latest -- and perhaps most bizarre -- controversy over the nature of AIDS.

"A voice came on the line and said it was Thabo Mbeki," Rasnick recalled, naming South Africa's president. "I didn't believe it at first. I didn't know presidents just called out of the blue like that."

Apparently, when it comes to AIDS, Mbeki does.

"He was checking me out, seeing if I was legitimate," Rasnick said. "I suppose I passed his test, because he asked me for my personal support of his anti-AIDS efforts and I gave it to him."

Trouble is, more than 99 percent of the world's other AIDS experts disagree. Along with a tiny group of other so-called "dissident" researchers, Rasnick espouses the radical view that AIDS simply does not exist.

The deadly disease that the world calls AIDS is not linked to the HIV virus, he insists, but instead is a collection of more mundane illnesses associated with recreational drug use and malnutrition. To argue otherwise, he maintains, is to be duped by a vast conspiracy among governments, drug companies and mainstream scientists who are milking billions of dollars from the "AIDS industry."

News of Mbeki's quiet consultation with American AIDS skeptics earlier this year became public only a few weeks ago, but the uproar it has sparked has been explosive. On Wednesday, Mbeki added fuel to the fire by writing an open letter to President Clinton and other world leaders, comparing attempts to stifle AIDS dissidents to political repression during the apartheid era.

Flirting with pseudo-science

AIDS activists in South Africa and abroad have attacked Mbeki's administration for flirting with pseudo-science instead of facing the ruinous AIDS crisis in South Africa, where about 4 million people -- nearly 10 percent of the population -- are infected with HIV. Health experts say that as many as 5,000 South African babies are born HIV-positive every month, fueling the fastest growing disease infection rate in the world.

The scandal has plunged the nation's already troubled AIDS policy into further confusion. The president ordered that a blue-ribbon panel be organized in South Africa to re-evaluate the evidence behind the global AIDS epidemic, and invited Peter Duesberg, one of the U.S. leaders of the AIDS skeptics' camp, to join it.

So far, health organizations such as UNAIDS and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shunned direct comment on South Africa. But in the past two weeks, both agencies released stinging statements denouncing the AIDS dissidents' position, labeling it a "myth."

"I consider those guys real evil characters," said an angry World Health Organization official in Geneva. "By denying the link between HIV and AIDS, they're undoing 20 years of public health efforts. Why would anyone want to give them this credibility?"

AIDS conference at risk

Taking into account Mbeki's actions, many scientists are weighing whether they should stay away from the International AIDS Conference, scheduled for July in South Africa. They fear that if the AIDS doubters are included in the assemblage, their views will be given undue world attention.

Mbeki, who has made clear his contempt for the international pharmaceutical industry -- "the profit takers who are benefiting from the scourge of HIV/AIDS," his office recently called them -- apparently stumbled into his latest AIDS controversy while surfing the Internet.

One of the more prominent AIDS dissident Web sites belongs to Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology who shares his Berkeley lab with Rasnick. In essence, Duesberg declares that despite thousands of medical studies, there is still no conclusive proof that HIV causes AIDS.

"I assume that the many beneficiaries of (the accepted AIDS) hypothesis are now concerned that, for the first time, a head of state who is independent of the U.S. government has called this unproductive and potentially very detrimental hypothesis into question," Duesberg said of Mbeki. "The current AIDS orthodoxy may be forced at last to prove its case."

'They're flat-Earthers'

What the world's AIDS community seems to be registering in this strange debate, however, isn't so much fear as genuine bafflement.

"If these are the persons Mbeki is consulting, then it is absolutely worrisome for South Africa," said Andrew Leigh-Brown, a pioneering AIDS geneticist at the University of Edinburgh who challenged the dissidents' assertions a decade ago, when they first emerged.

"What we're talking about here is a very small group of people who for whatever reasons chose to ignore the vast, accumulated bulk of scientific evidence," Leigh-Brown said. "They're flat-Earthers. It's nonsense."

So noisy has the outcry against Mbeki's contact with AIDS skeptics become that his office issued a terse statement last week that "the president has never said that HIV does not cause AIDS."

Es folgt ein schrecklicher Artikel des angesehenen "Time Magazine". Anschließend ein Leserbrief des AIDS-Kritikers James Jerome.

Time Magazine
April 21, 2000

Why South Africa Questions the Link Between HIV and AIDS

Under pressure to spend millions to prescribe AZT, President Mbeki indulges AIDS flat-earthers

We may be past the days when medicines junked in the West are exported to the Third World, but South Africa is aggressively defending its right to import junked science. Even as his government confirmed this week that at least one in every 10 South Africans is HIV-positive, President Thabo Mbeki lashed out at critics of his government's flirtation with self-styled "dissident" AIDS scientists who believe the disease isn't caused by the HIV virus. Mbeki even put a nationalist spin on his angry retort to those who criticized him for giving credence to discredited science. Distinguishing AIDS in Africa as a primarily heterosexual phenomenon that is destined to slash average life expectancy in his region to 47, Mbeki insisted that "as Africans we have to deal with this uniquely African catastrophe" and that simply accepting Western conventional wisdom on AIDS would be "absurd and illogical." Mbeki's remarks, in letter to President Clinton - which administration officials considered so unfortunate that they tried to avoid releasing it to the media - even likened those warning against the views of dissident AIDS scientists to the repressive apartheid regime and book-burning religious fanatics.

Mbeki's position has been privately greeted as something of a disaster by Clinton administration officials, who will receive the South African president on a state visit next month. In their official comments they avoided criticism of Mbeki so as not to prompt a further backlash, but the controversy is almost certain to provoke protests from U.S. AIDS activists and cast a cloud over Washington's relationship with its favorite new-generation African leader.

The controversy also threatens to disrupt a major international AIDS conference to be held in South Africa in July, with a growing number of key experts threatening to stay away if Mbeki's government insists on indulging the views of dissident academics whose views were debated and discounted a decade ago in the U.S. To the consternation of South Africa's own medical and AIDS-activist community, Mbeki has invited Berkeley molecular biologist Peter Duesberg and his colleague David Resnick - who maintain that the HIV virus is harmless and not the cause of AIDS - to serve on a panel advising the government over whether to make AZT available to pregnant HIV carriers. Duesberg and Resnick argue that the high incidence of AIDS in Africa is based less on unprotected sex than on such poverty-related conditions as undernourishment.

"Duesberg has been so thoroughly discredited among AIDS researchers in the U.S. that this is equivalent to South Africa trying to import out-of-date medicines," says TIME medical correspondent Christine Gorman. "If South Africa approaches this question in good faith they'll find out what everybody else has figured out, which is that HIV causes AIDS - but in the meantime hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will suffer because of some misplaced distrust of medical authority."

With AIDS threatening to wipe out a full 25 percent of South Africa's population by the year 2010, the current debate has arisen over the government's responsibilities in treating the disease. Despite growing pressure from the South African medical and AIDS activist communities, the government refuses to make available the drugs AZT or Nevirapine to rape victims and pregnant women. Some 22 percent of pregnant women in South Africa are HIV-positive, and AZT and Nevirapine have been successful in preventing mother-to-child transmission of the virus. "AZT has been shown to prevent transmission of the virus to unborn children," says Gorman. "There's always a chance that HIV won't transmit and that some of those being treated might now have contracted HIV anyway, but even if women aren't compelled to take it there's no excuse not to make it available."

But the South African government maintains the drugs are too expensive and potentially harmful. As the protests escalated, Mbeki and his aides have invoked Duesberg's theories and his claim that AZT does more harm than good, and have accused their critics of promoting profiteering pharmaceutical corporations. And the president has rationalized his stance by invoking Duesberg. While proclaiming himself undecided on Duesberg's arguments, Mbeki insists that they ought to be debated and instructed his AIDS advisory panel to consider questions ranging from the merits of treatments such as AZT to "whether there's this thing called AIDS, what it is, whether HIV leads to AIDS, whether there's something called HIV," according to his spokesman Parks Mankahlana. But South African critics see dabbling in Duesberg's ideas as a dangerous distraction that ducks the government's treatment responsibilities, which could also critically undermine the government's own safe-sex education efforts.

The work of the HIV-AIDS naysayers passed into obscurity with the success of anti-retroviral cocktail treatments, which were developed on the premise that HIV causes AIDS. Of course, treatments that cost some $10,000 per patient each year are way beyond the reach of the overwhelming majority of South Africa's HIV sufferers - and of their government, which would have to spend its entire medical budget on providing the drug cocktails. But AZT is a lot more within their reach. And scientists fear that attempting to resurrect the credibility of skeptics such as Duesberg sends a message that could prove disastrous to education efforts to stop the spread of the virus in South Africa. "If the problem with supplying people with AZT is financial, that needs to be said up front," says Gorman. "But for a government to be seen questioning whether HIV actually causes AIDS is extremely dangerous, because it twists people's minds."

Mbeki's position reportedly derived from reading Duesberg's ideas while trawling the Internet for information on HIV. And as a proud intellectual and instinctive contrarian, he won't easily be cowed by the howls of protest. In the end, though, Mbeki's flirtation with weird science may prove to be an embarrassment to a government that hopes to lead a continent-wide African renaissance. But that embarrassment will be nothing compared with the human suffering that could result from challenging the fundamentals of AIDS science in a country with one of the world's highest incidences of HIV.

Den folgenden Leserbrief schrieb James Jerome an TIME Daily und die Herausgeber des TIME Magazine:

In your April 21 article "Why South Africa Questions the Link Between HIV and AIDS," why do you quote your magazine's science reporter to rebut proponents of alternative HIV/AIDS hypotheses, when you could easily go beyond the walls of your building to find a scientist to promote the dominant point of view in this controversy? Your tactic reinforces TIME's editorial bias ("junked science," "weird science," "it twists people's minds") rather than offering your readers objective, informative, investigative reporting that allows us to reach our own conclusions about the validity of President Mbeki's proposed scientific debate, instead of having yours heaped upon us.

You state, "the government refuses to make available the drugs AZT or Nevirapine to rape victims and pregnant women." AZT is manufactured by GlaxoWellcome, whose South African medical director Dr. Peter Moore warned on the television program Carte Blanche on November 7, 1999 that AZT was "not registered" and "not recommended" for anti-HIV prophylaxis following rape, confirmed by the product insert: "Patients should be advised that therapy with Retrovir [AZT] has not been shown to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV to others through sexual contact."

Your fearful, reactionary point of view obfuscates certain facts that must be fairly considered if your work is to have any journalistic worth beyond a cheap, tabloid sensationalism. You and TIME medical correspondent Christine Gorman should be ashamed to mix your personal opinions with your reporting. It is unworthy of your news organization.

James Jerome
Miami Beach, FL

Mbeki - Teil 3

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