An eyewitness account by the former science correspondent of The Sunday Times (London).
The year 2000 saw the birth of a new international sport. It became known as "Mbeki-bashing". Newspapers, broadcast media, doctors and scientists, charities, UN agencies, financial institutions and officials even up to the level of the White House, joined in the fun.
The target was of course President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. The aim was to cast as much ridicule and derision on him as possible, as Baffour Ankomah and Pusch Commey described in October's New African. It didn't matter how outrageous the claims made, no one with power or influence would protest, because Mbeki had done the one thing all "right-thinking" opinion leaders detest: he questioned the HIV theory of Aids.
During the summer, Mbeki brought together neatly 40 scientists from across the world to advise him on the causes and treatment of AIDS. Two thirds of these scientists believe HIV causes Aids, and that the best way of fighting Aids is to prescribe and develop drugs and a vaccine to beat the virus; one third of the panellists, the so-called "Aids dissidents", question this view.
Normally, it would be considered not just reasonable, but highly responsible, for the president of a country to consult internationally on how to tackle a major public health emergency. Especially when that country is said by UNAIDS to have 4.2 million HIV-infected people -- the largest number in the world. And especially when 15 years of Aids science have failed to deliver anything of value in terms of prevention or treatment.
Aids science is not normal, however, and the criticism of Mbeki, both inside and outside South Africa, could hardly have been more virulent -- and ill informed.
"Under pressure to spend millions to prescribe AZT, President Mbeki indulges Aids flat-earthers," said Time magazine on 21 April, in response to news that Mbeki was defending his right to include "dissident" scientists on his panel.
Aids was threatening to wipe out a quarter of South Africa's population by the year 2010, yet the government was backing away from its treatment responsibilities by refusing to make available the antiviral drugs, AZT or Nevirapine to rape victims and pregnant women. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people would suffer because of Mbeki's "misplaced distrust of medical authority", the Time's medical correspondent declared.
Perhaps it is the very bankruptcy of Aids science that causes the Aids industry, and its media advocates, to defend the indefensible with such vigour. But truly, there is not a single study showing either AZT or nevirapine to have saved lives.
On the contrary, AZT is a poison that was essentially marketed by the US National Institutes of Health, with the grateful collaboration of a drug company that went on to make billions of dollars from it, during a period of immense political and social pressure to come up with an Aids treatment.
It was never properly tested and it has been responsible for swathes of deaths. Babies exposed to the drug during pregnancy have been clearly shown in several recent studies to be more likely to die than when mothers are left untreated.
As for nevirapine, after several drug-related deaths during trials in South Africa, the Health Department there has been proceeding cautiously. It is right to do so: earlier this year, European drug watchdogs issued a public warning of "severe and life-threatening reactions", urging that patients should be "intensely monitored" during the first weeks of treatment -- impossible in a poor country like South Africa.
Thus, Time's article was dangerously wrong. But it was part of a world trend, which grew into a crescendo of opposition, and became a chorus of defamation of the political leader who dared to question HIV/Aids doctrine.
Newsweek's bill of health
Today, around the world, Aids campaigners greet Mbeki's name with sniggers. The pressure in South Africa has been such as to force him to withdraw from...