Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Dr versus Dr

Last week's Mail&Guardian had a letter from the Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang arguing how South Africa is leading the war against HIV and Aids. Below are the opening two and ending paragraphs (to read the full letter, follow link and scroll down to the headline We were right all along):
Returning to New York last week for the review of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/Aids was gratifying. The Comprehensive Review and High-Level Meeting reflected how far the world has come to accept what President Thabo Mbeki sought to highlight as early as 2000.

He said that we could not blame the challenge of HIV/Aids only on the virus, and should have a collection of interventions that addresses the correlation between the agent, the host and the environment.
We do not need political grandstanding to demonstrate our commitment and leadership. A sustained increase in resource allocation, and implementation of programmes that make a difference to the lives of the people on the ground, is what matters most to the government.
Anyway, a good friend (;-)) of this blog has submitted a letter to the M&G in reply, and a strongly-worded one at that. We don't know whether it's going to be published, but you read it here first.
I was amazed to read the minister of health's self-congratulatory piece of amnesic trash in the Letters section of 9 June ("We were right all along"). The gist of her drivel is that our head-of-state-cum-medical-officianado, Thabo Mbeki, was right in questioning the HIV-AIDS link six years ago. More accurately, the minister states that "[Mbeki] said that we could not blame the challenge of HIV/AIDS only on the virus...". In fact, minister, your government's selective science and counter-intellectual stance on AIDS has now reached new levels - no one has EVER doubted the link between AIDS and its surrounding socio-political environment. What the president did six years ago was to question the very link between HIV and AIDS. Don't you remember loose statements such as "a virus can't cause a syndrome" and other nonsense such as that? Don't justify past moronic behaviour now by attempting to change history. We won't fall for that either. If you can't be more constructive than cultivate and perpetuate a "told you so" narrative, get out of the way of people who actually want to implement good policies. Don't you think it's time for you to shut up and salvage what little credibility you might have left?
Dr Pieter Fourie
Eina! I might add, this is not some armchair-critic and this is why. Vat hulle, Pietsie!

PS I'm posting this from the house of the good Dr (you decide which one) - and I think I have permission to do so ;-)


  1. It’s reassuring to hear someone speak about AIDS/HIV who actually knows what he’s talking about. Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst affected region in the world, so one would think Mbeki and Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang would take this into account before opening their mouths. We don’t need politicians to make far flung self-congratulatory statements about AIDS/HIV, there are enough myths/
    misconceptions about this disease as it is. South Africa needs more people like Dr Pieter Fourie, who actually has a viewpoint based on facts and reality, and who’s not afraid take a stand.

  2. It's this kind of polemic that make me miss South Africa so much (especially it free and active political-citizenship arena). The media here in Vietnam are so predictable - the front cover of the English daily nearly always has a pro-government headline.

    Nice site btw - nice layout Krizz :P

  3. The M&G edited the letter quite well to make room for others. This is what was printed:

    "Justifying past idiocy
    I was amazed to read Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala--Msimang’s amnesic letter last week. (“We were right all along”). The gist was that President Thabo Mbeki was right to question the HIV-Aids link six years ago. She states that “[Mbeki] said that we could not blame the challenge of HIV/Aids only on the virus ...”

    No one has ever doubted the link between Aids and its surrounding socio-political environment. The president’s point was different -- he questioned the very link between the virus and the disease. Don’t you remember him saying that “a virus can’t cause a syndrome” and other similar trash?

    Don’t justify past moronic behaviour now by trying to change history."
    -- Dr Pieter Fourie, Johannesburg