Top speakers at the 16th International Conference on AIDS reserved their closing remarks for a long and detailed critique of South Africa and President Thabo Mbeki’s government, which at first denied that the human immunodeficiency virus causes AIDS and then resisted offering HIV drugs to its people.
One in nine South Africans is estimated to be infected with the virus, which is incurable and fatal but which can be kept in check by drugs.
"It is the only country in Africa, amongst all the countries I have traversed in the last five years, whose government is still obtuse, dilatory and negligent about rolling out treatment," Stephen Lewis, the U.N. special envoy on AIDS, told the closing session.
"It is the only country in Africa whose government continues to propound theories more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state."
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has been criticized for promoting traditional cures such as garlic, beetroot and lemon.
There have been renewed calls for her dismissal by South African President, Thabo Mbeki. I have my doubts this will happen. The fact remains, though, that she will remain a big reason why South Africa’s HIV/AIDS policy will remain far less effective than it could be and why 1 in 9 South Africans will become infected by and possibly die from AIDS.