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Friday, August 10, 2007

Dr. Beetroot and the Great AIDS Denial

The long-term impact of the epidemic is almost incalculable. The country has 1.2 million Aids orphans. A generation of women is being lost. Teachers are dying at the rate of 14 a week; child mortality rates in some areas have trebled in the past 15 years. And life expectancy, because of Aids, has fallen to around 47 years. "This is medieval," said Dr Alan Whiteside of Kwa-Zulu Natal University in Durban. "Why are we not shouting it from the rooftops?"
South Africa yesterday fired their deputy health minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who was the only government official critical of the country's bizarre AIDS policy. See, South African president Thabo Mbeki and health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang don't believe HIV causes AIDS. Yes, you read that correct. Their whole nation is suffering from a plague that makes apartheid look like a Tahitian vacation, and these two see no correlation between the two diseases, twenty years of solid public health history notwithstanding. Meanwhile, 1,400 new people are infected with HIV every day in South Africa.

What do Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang think their countrymen should do? Why, imbibe potions created by local medicine men of course! The New Yorker did a great piece on this story in March if you can find it. Truly, this is one of those profoundly African tragedies which even Shakespeare would find too unbelievable for words. I can understand the reluctance of African leaders to trust Western medicine but, as the New Yorker article points out, they don't take sweet potatoes for heart disease.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa will be a World War II like event for the continent. The death toll will end up in the millions. Denying the science behind disease prevention will only cause history to leave the destruction of this continent onto Africa's own doorstep. They will not be able to blame colonialism or prejudice.

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