Lemon Garlic Genocideby Brandon Edmonds, image by Conrad Botes / 23.10.2009
When he wasn’t tinkering with the legal process or buying pricey French gun boats, Mister BEE, Thabo Mbeki was basically denying a holocaust. By 2008 11% of the population was infected. Over 5 million people. A quarter of a million people died of AIDS last year. 1 in 3 women in their 20s and a quarter of men in their 30s, fellow citizens, live with HIV. That’s just appalling. Brazil had a similar HIV prevalence but moved quickly, despite its socially conservative Catholicism, to provide near universal access to antiretroviral therapy in the mid-nineties (almost a decade before us) and rates of infection are no longer comparable. Why? Well, Mister T infamously questioned the link between HIV and Aids – putting him as out of step with scientific consensus as Creationists and UFO abductees. As Professor Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute, who discovered the HIV virus, said, at the time, “We have accumulated so much evidence of the link with AIDS; it is nonsense to try to separate the virus and the disease.” Mbeki even wrote to world leaders differentiating infection in the gay West from hetero Africa. He called for an ‘African solution to an African problem’ and promised not to “condemn our own people to death by giving up the search for… targeted responses to the specifically African incidence of HIV-Aids.” The targeted response? Virodene. An anti-Aids drug developed by a trio of Pretoria researchers. Great. Keeping it local. But the drug was mostly a dry-cleaning solvent toxic to humans. When medical control officials raised concerns they were dismissed. It came out that a close friend of Mbeki’s bought into the rights for the drug with a projected profit of 100 million pounds (6% of which would have gone to the ANC). So much for African solutions. It took forever for genuinely effective Anti-Retrovirals (ARVs), central to arresting the ghastly momentum of the disease, to gain widespread use and acceptance in this country. By the end of 2007 only some 28% of infected people were receiving treatment. Less than 10% of sufferers have access to ARVs on the continent as a whole (thanks largely to the genocidal pricing policy of pharmaceutical multinationals). The ban Mbeki placed on the use of ARVS in public hospitals caused untold suffering and death. Public health researchers put the number at around 340 000 Aids deaths thanks to the ‘denialism of the Mbeki years’. Puts the lemon and garlic cure of boozy Manto into brutal perspective. She and Thabo should both be at the International Criminal Court justifying themselves and made to visit the relatives of the dead. One by one.
Image © and courtesy Conrad Botes