Newspaper is criticised over Aids articles: Claims over disease in Africa denounced

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A MEDICAL school has taken the unprecedented step of publicly condemning 'misleading' articles, published by the Sunday Times, which suggest that Aids is not a significant problem in Africa.

'Denying the reality of this public health problem is seriously detrimental' to Africans and British travellers who need to know how to avoid infection, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine school said.

Kevin De Cock, a senior lecturer, said: 'People who have worked on Aids in Africa are profoundly affected by what they have witnessed there and to see articles that minimise the damage of Aids is just unacceptable . . . it's profoundly offensive.'

Many scientists and Aids workers have written to the Sunday Times in protest, including Professor James Neil, of the University of Glasgow, a member of the Medical Research Council's committee on Aids.

He criticised an article published on 29 August which said a 'growing number of scientists and doctors around the world' question whether HIV causes Aids.

His letter, which was not published, said: 'In my experience this sceptical position is now no more than a fashion followed by a very small number of eccentrics and publicity seekers.'

Professor Neil said that the Sunday Times article was 'no more than the usual cocktail of incomplete anecdotes and defective logic' which supports 'a campaign of misinformation' that is undermining health education.

Professor Kihumbu Thairu, director of the health department at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said the Sunday Times had been 'extremely disruptive'.

Professor George Mondo Kagonyera, a medical scientist in Uganda, said that to claim Aids in Africa was a myth was 'tantamount to criminiality'.

The Sunday Times has repeatedly alleged that the test for HIV antibodies in Africa is wildly inaccurate, saying that it cross-reacts with malarial antibodies to give 80-90 per cent 'false positives'.

The figures were denounced as 'rubbish' by Professor Roy Anderson, of Oxford University.

The newspaper also published an article which cast doubt on the prevalence of the disease by quoting figures which showed that the rate of HIV infection in Malawian orphanages had stayed at between 1 and 2 per cent over the past seven years.

Professor Anderson pointed out that the data referred to children aged between five and eight - at which age they were not sexually active, and those infected at birth would have already died.