Mbeki puppets also to blame for Aids travesty

2009-12-05 00:00

SOUTH Africa has finally turned the corner with regard to its policies on HIV/Aids, with the current administration announcing radical changes which would have been unheard of during the previous regime.

The announcement of changes enabled us to commemorate World Aids Day with a different tune, a tune that had never been heard in this country before.

South Africa made world headlines for the wrong reasons over a 10-year period under the Thabo Mbeki administration when we went head-on against experts and researchers on fundamental issues such as what causes Aids.

While Mbeki flirted with Aids dissidents and conspiracy theorists and dismissed findings that were a result of thorough research, people died like flies and the state did little to come to their rescue.

I did not have a problem with Mbeki and company vetting the findings of researchers and disputing them, but what alternative did they provide for the people who dealt with the effects of HIV/Aids on a daily basis?

It was a death sentence for the hundreds of thousands of people who had no recourse whatsoever. Then health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang went on and on about diet, which did not speak to the heart of the pandemic. For something as complex as HIV/Aids, there cannot be just one solution such as diet alone, or ARVs alone, as it needs a multiprong approach if it is to be defeated.

The current regime, under Jacob Zuma, has done an about-turn on HIV/Aids policy.

In as much as Mbeki was to blame for his government’s flawed policies on the pandemic, some of the current crop of cabinet members and MPs were part of his administration, which means that they are also to blame.

What was it that was so different then that they did not suggest the current policies to Mbeki?

How did one man singlehandedly dictate a country’s policy on something as critical as HIV/Aids?

Mbeki cannot be blamed alone as they were his puppets with their “ja baas” mentality. What did they do when Mbeki engaged his denialists and dissidents while learned professionals on the issue continued to be sidelined? Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge knows all too well about this.

As tainted as Mbeki’s stance on the pandemic was, some aspects of his approach cannot be ignored as they made a lot of sense, economic sense that is. The nature of pharmaceutical companies, which now operate like a modern-day mafia, is such that they milk developing countries’ budgets so dry that a huge chunk of their budgets goes towards providing medical support for their citizens, which is not sustainable. First World countries have private medical aid schemes, while citizens of developing countries are dependent on the state. Just like the child income grant, this will continue to be a burden on the state and it will be unable to afford skills training for people so that they become self-sufficient.

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