Earlier this week it was revealed that the Aids policies of former president Thabo Mbeki’s government were directly responsible for the avoidable deaths of 330,000 people in South Africa.
According to the United Nations the country has one of the most severe HIV/Aids epidemics in the world, with approximately 5.5 million people, or 18.8% of the adult population, being HIV positive, while in 2005 there were 900 deaths a day.
The rise in deaths from Aids in South Africa has been linked to Mbeki’s espousal of the Duesberg Hypothesis from the mid-1990s onwards.
Spurning scientific consensus that Aids is caused by a viral infection which could be combated, though not cured, by sophisticated and expensive drugs, Mbeki followed the theories of Aids-denialists, the most prominent among whom is the molecular biologist, Professor Peter Duesberg from Berkeley, California.
The Duesberg Hypothesis contends that Aids is not found in Africa, rather, it is “the myth of an African AIDS epidemic,” concocted by the World Health Organization and other health NGOs to justify their existences, which in turn results in their “manufacturing contagious plagues out of noninfectious medical conditions”.
Further reading of Duesberg’s take on Aids leads the reader further down the rabbit hole, with alleged rationalisations comprising: media sensationalism through stories that “helped shape the Western impression of an AIDS problem out of control,” resulting in high levels of funding; a willing participation in deception by local doctors who wish to take advantage of aid money; and confusion on the part of doctors: “Many common Third World diseases are confused with AIDS even if they are not part of its official definition.”
As a scientist, it is expected that tangible evidence would suffice to quell such a questionable hypothesis; one look at the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, by UNAIDS and WHO demonstrates the increase.
In 1990 an estimated 2,600 people died of Aids, a figure that rose during the mid-1990s to 26,000 in 1995, then increased five-fold in as many years to 140,000 in 2000.
Post-millennial figures offer little comfort as the figures over the past seven years have crept up with steady swiftness: 180,000 in 2001, 220,000 in 2002, 270,000 in 2003, 310,000 in 2004, 330,000 in 2005, a brief lull in 2006 with a fall by 10,000 to 320, 000, only to surge again in 2007 to 350,000.
Mbeki’s belief that it is poverty, bad nourishment and general ill-health, as opposed to the virus, has resulted in his rejection of free drugs and grants, and a reluctance to establish a treatment programme.
Meanwhile, the death toll continues to rise, and assertions that Mbeki’s hands bear the blood of his people gain added poignancy.
Nevertheless, while Mbeki stands idly by, elsewhere scientists and medical NGO’s are in over-drive to alleviate the suffering of those with HIV/Aids, and find a conclusive solution to the epidemic.
One such initiative engages communities to combat the social stigma associated with HIV and Aids by addressing the societal factors that increase HIV risk and vulnerability, such as gender inequities, discrimination, and social marginalisation.
Confronting HIV requires addressing issues such as human sexuality and drug use with a compassion and effective action towards groups that society often prefers to ignore.
Uncomfortable as this may be for many, the alternative is equally stark, as the UNAIDS report notes: “Until sufficient political will exists to address the sources of HIV risk and vulnerability, the epidemic will continue to expand, undermining the sustainability of the HIV response.” [Source]
In Ghana the role of the media is assuming a proactive stance in addressing the issue – Tim Quashigah of the Ghana Institute of Journalism has stated that because reporting on HIV/Aids is a political issue, journalists need to understand the political climate and educate themselves on the dynamics of the disease.
Speaking at a workshop earlier this year, Bernice Heloo, president of the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa, reinforced that in the light of HIV now being managed by antiretrovirals, the media have “a great responsibility to project this to reduce stigmatization and discrimination” in addition to presenting HIV/Aids as a disease that can affect anyone, regardless of socio-economic standing.
The significance of World AIDS Day resides in its ability to promulgate awareness: in our capacity as bloggers – and readers of blogs – we have the ability to inform and reflect.
As the figures remind us of the unscrupulous and nondiscriminatory nature of HIV and Aids, the obstacles to preventing further escalations – such as social stigma, ignorance, and discrimination – must be removed.