Johannesburg - Ignore. This is the stance taken by HIV advocacy organisations against former president Thabo Mbeki’s missives in what guided his controversial stance on the disease and its treatment.
The South African National Aids Council (Sanac) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) both said on Monday they would no longer be commenting on the letters Mbeki wrote regarding his stance on HIV. The organisations said their positions that Mbeki was wrong in his view still stood and that they would rather focus on the gains made through the national rollout of antiretroviral treatment in curbing deaths related to HIV/Aids.
Sanac spokesman Kanya Ndaki referred to a statement they released last week. In the statement, Sanac chief executive Dr Fareed Abdullah said: “The leadership of Sanac advises the nation against a debate that will take us back to a fractious past. South Africa has the largest antiretroviral treatment programme in the world. This is something we should all be proud of.”
“We also have one of the most effective programmes to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth and the breast-feeding period. This is due to the rollout of the antiretroviral treatment programme.”
On Monday, Mbeki released the latest letter in which he detailed statistical evidence on deaths related to HIV contained in Statistics SA reports on Mortality and Causes of Death in South Africa for the years 2008 and 2013.
Mbeki noted that Stats SA had prepared the reports on the basis of death notices that it received from the Department of Home Affairs.
“The Stats SA Reports indicate that the number of people who died from what it calls human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease increased from 15 097 in 2008 to 23 203 in 2013, that is by 8 106 - a 54 percent increase over five years. They also state that in terms of ranking, in 2008, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease accounted for 2.5 percent of all deaths in the country, whereas this increased in 2013 to 5.1 percent of all deaths,” Mbeki said.
He continued: “They also say that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease rose from being the ninth leading cause of death in the country in 2008 to take the third position in 2013. These increases are puzzling, given the fact that it is precisely during the period since 2008 that the South African government engaged in a large-scale distribution of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).”
Mbeki then questioned why Africans had higher numbers of people infected with HIV than other race groups, the veracity of death notices and the government’s justification of its budget on HIV and ARV treatment.
He asked: “What justifies spending 16 percent of the national health budget (2015) on a disease which in 2013 accounted for 5 percent of all deaths?”
The TAC referred to its previous statement in which it said: “As done previously, Mbeki fails to place the Stats SA data in proper context. The data he quotes is based on the cause of death written on death certificates. There are a number of reasons why this underestimates the role of HIV. Firstly, for stigma-related reasons, HIV was often not written on death certificates.”
“Secondly, in many cases where the cause was indicated as TB or pneumonia, HIV would in fact have been the underlying cause. Thirdly, many people would have died of Aids-related diseases without ever having known their HIV status. Mbeki’s misuse of Stats SA data is nothing new.”
The Department of Health had not responded to questions at the time of publication.