From the Worldwide Faith News archives

South African archbishop launches attack on Mbeki over AIDS

Date 3 Dec 2001 09:06:19 -0500

Note #6958 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


South African archbishop launches attack on Mbeki over AIDS

South Africa's president accused of "ignorance and denial"  

by Alex Duval Smith  
Ecumenical News International

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's Anglican archbishop has launched a powerful
attack on the country's president, Thabo Mbeki, and his repeated questioning
of the scientific premise that HIV leads to AIDS.

Speaking Nov. 26 at a conference in Johannesburg, Archbishop Njongonkulu
Ndungane of Cape Town said "nothing could be more cruel to those infected
than to believe that HIV is not the cause of AIDS."

The archbishop added that President Mbeki's questioning of the link between
the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS amounted to "ignorance of
the facts, and denial."

The archbishop's speech, to a medical conference in the run up to World Aids
Day on Dec. 1, came as the United Nations published new and alarming figures
about the spread of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Archbishop Ndungane's speech marked his latest and toughest attack on the
South African government's hesitant approach to tackling the AIDS pandemic
in the country.

Comparing the fight against AIDS to the long struggle against apartheid, the
archbishop, who was once a political prisoner, said: "'Our struggles were
then, and are now, filled with challenges to our cultures and traditions, as
well as to our way of thinking about the world."

In its annual report published on Wednesday, UNAIDS said sub-Saharan Africa
remained the most infected and the most vulnerable region in the world and
that there were now areas of South Africa where more than 30 per cent of
pregnant women were infected with HIV.

An estimated one-in-nine South Africans - about 4.7 million people - are
living with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS, making their country one of the
worst affected in the world.

This week the South African government was taken to court by AIDS
campaigners and pediatricians for failing to administer a proven
anti-retroviral drug, Nevirapine, to pregnant mothers in childbirth.

Boehringer Ingelheim, the German manufacturer of the drug, has offered to
distribute it free in South Africa, but the country's government has
licensed only a small number of pilot sites.

The government argues that the country's health infrastructure is not
sufficiently developed to ensure proper supervision of the administration of
a powerful drug. The government also claims that even if they are treated at
the time of giving birth, mothers pass on HIV through their breast milk.
Pretoria High Court will rule in December on the case.

Archbishop Ndungane's speech, to an AIDS caregivers' conference sponsored by
a pharmaceutical company, marked his latest and toughest attack on the South
African government's hesitant approach to tackling the Aids pandemic in the

In his speech, Archbishop Ndungane said AIDS was not a sin and apologized
for the church's often judgmental approach to illness.

"Tragically, for too long, those in authority have condemned - either
through silence or words of judgment - those living with, and dying from,
AIDS. It has broken my heart to realize that too many children, whose
parents have died from AIDS, have been treated like diseased pariahs."

In a specific reference to President Mbeki's touchiness about the disease in
its African context, he said: "There are still those who believe that the
admission of being HIV-positive is to admit that Africans are uniquely
diseased, more so than the rest of the human race. The opposite side of this
coin is to hold the belief that Africans are uniquely immune from AIDS.

"These mistaken beliefs are sickening and tragic for they make a mockery of
science and learning. They play strangely into the myth that Africans are
less able than the rest of the world."

The archbishop, who last year took a
public HIV-test and urged all South African bishops to do the same, said:
"We have the tools at hand to prevent the spread of this virus from the
first moments of life [from mother to child]. Yet in some communities and
nations our hands have been tied, either due to ignorance and fear or for
economic, social or political reasons."
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