Scientists condemn Health Minister as 'embarrassment to South Africa'

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The Independent Online

More than 80 international scientists and academics have condemned South Africa's Aids policies as ineffective and immoral and called for the dismissal of the country's Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, in a letter to President Thabo Mbeki.

The scientists called Dr Tshabalala-Msimang an embarrassment to South Africa and said her activities undermined science. Signatories included the American scientists David Baltimore, a biologist and Nobel Prize-winner, and Robert Gallo, a co-discoverer of the HIV virus which causes Aids.

They called "for the immediate removal of Dr Tshabalala-Msimang as Minister of Health and for an end to the disastrous, pseudoscientific policies that have characterised the South African government's response to HIV/AIDS".

Dr Tshabalala-Msimang, has been criticised for advising HIV sufferers to eat beetroot, garlic, lemon and the African potato to stave off Aids. Mr Mbeki has also been accused of poor judgement in addressing South Africa's Aids epidemic.

The government estimates more than 5.5 million South Africans are HIV positive. On average, more than 900 people a day die of the disease in South Africa.

There was no immediate response from South Africa to the letter. But the government recently defended the Health Minister, saying false information about the country's treatment programme was being spread around the world.

The government insists that it is providing more than 140,000 people with antiretroviral drugs. But the scientists said there were 500,000 South Africans without access to drugs who need them to survive. And they noted the government estimate was less than half of the target of 380,000 it set in 2003.

Mr Mbeki has expressed doubts about the connection between HIV and Aids and about the effectiveness of the antiretroviral drugs.

The scientists said: "To deny that HIV causes Aids is farcical in the face of the scientific evidence; to promote ineffective, immoral policies on HIV/Aids endangers lives; to have as a health minister a person who now has no international respect is an embarrassment to the South African government."

The letter endorsed the views of Stephen Lewis, the UN special envoy for Aids in Africa, who delivered a scathing attack on South Africaat an Aids conference in Toronto last month.