Media release

Response to enquiries and comments on HIV/Aids

14 September 2000

14 September 2000

A great deal of attention has been devoted, locally and internationally, to issues raised by South Africa over HIV and AIDS. To put the issues beyond doubt in the public mind, particularly so that the battle against this scourge may proceed with full vigour, the following statement is issued by the Government.

Specifically it is stated with emphasis that - as reference to the record will show – neither the President nor his Cabinet colleagues have ever denied a link between HIV and AIDS.

This is made clear if one refers to the full transcript of the President's interview last week with Time magazine, which can be accessed by those interested, on the Government Online (outside link) and the Time website. The published edited version in Time, on which many critics now depend, conflated his remarks in a way which could give rise to a misunderstanding over his (generic or non-specific) use of the word "no" after being asked if he was prepared to acknowledge that there was a link between HIV and AIDS. In fact, the President went on to say that "you cannot attribute immune deficiency solely and exclusively to a virus". The context of the full transcript makes it expressly clear that he was prepared to accept that HIV might "very well" be a causal factor.

He preceded these remarks with this statement:

"Now, if you go through the literature, ordinary standard literature available in medical schools, there will be a whole variety of things that can cause the immune system to collapse. Endemic poverty, the impact of nutrition, contaminated water, all of these things, will result in immune deficiency. If you take the African continent you add to that things like repetitive infections of malaria, ordinary STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), syphilis, gonorrhoea, etc. All of these will result in immune deficiency. Now it is perfectly possible that among those things is a particular virus. But the notion that immune deficiency is only acquired from a single virus cannot be sustained. The problem is that once you say immune deficiency is acquired from that virus your response will be anti-retroviral drugs. But if you say the reason we are getting collapsed immune systems is a whole variety of reasons, including the poverty question which is very critical, then you have a more comprehensive response to the health condition of a person."

The President went on, later in the Time interview, to say that "AIDS is a syndrome. It’s a whole variety of diseases which affect a person because something negative has happened to the immune system. If the scientists come back and say this virus is part of the variety of things from which people acquire immune deficiency, I have no problem with that. But to say this is the sole cause, therefore the only response to it is anti-retroviral drugs, I am saying we will never be able to solve the AIDS problem."

The question can, moreover, be asked why the Government would put money into research for a vaccine if it assumes no link between HIV and AIDS. Work on developing a vaccine is going on at the Medical Research Council to combat the spread of the disease.

But the Government has to deal with the broader questions, not only the specific ones in which certain groups could well have an interest in a particular direction being taken. It is necessary for the Government to adopt a more comprehensive approach, covering a wide range of matters including lifestyle, condoms not only for AIDS but also for STDs, etc, and that is what is being done.

The five-year strategic plan of the Department of Health and government as a whole is a critical part of the war against AIDS, and indicates the seriousness with which the Government views the problem.

As is well known, the Department of Health is continuing with further research on the efficacy of some drugs in dealing with mother-to-child transmission and the implications of adopting this approach. Further, a panel of experts has been set up by the Cabinet, with three Cabinet members responsible (Health, Presidency and Arts, Culture, Science &Technology). The panel has met on more than one occasion, including a closed Internet discussion, and at present facilitators are hard at work with this panel to produce an interim report on the basis of their discussions.

The recommendations on these matters are eagerly awaited, and it will then be clearer what additional work has to be done and what further decisions are to be made on the matter.

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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