Re: The politics of AIDS in South Africa 14 May 2003
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Peter J Flegg,
Consultant Physician
Blackpool Victoria Hospital, UK, FY3 8NR

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Re: Re: The politics of AIDS in South Africa

Gordon Stewart challenges Fassin and Scheider's assertion that President Mbeki has distanced himself from the AIDS dissidents (http://bmj.com/cgi/eletters/326/7387/495#32045).

Stewart says "Having served at the President's invitation as a neutral member of his Panel since 1999, I have to say that I have received no such intimation." Does this omission really constitute evidence as to what Mbeki's intentions might be? As a "neutral member" (whatever that means), why should Gordon Stewart expect to be personally informed of Mbekiís decisions?

It is quite clear that Mbeki has tired of dissidents using the designation "Member of the Presidential AIDS Panel". A year ago it is reported that Joel Netshitenzhe, a South African Government spokesman, confirmed that there had been discussion about getting the dissidents to stop misusing Mbeki's name. He has stated that dissidents were being told that they couldn't sign themselves as if they represent the view of the entire panel (1). It is also stated in this same report that Mbeki had decided to cut informal contact with the dissidents and communicate with them only when the advisory panel meets. These statements add weight to the claim by Fassin and Scheider that Mbeki has distanced himself from the AIDS dissidents.

However, it is clear that the dissidents are still continuing to use the epithet "Member of the Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel" whenever it suits them, despite Mbekiís objections (2). I must admit, it is a grand and eye-catching title, and presumably the dissidents feel it confers considerable debating prestige.

The question has also been raised as to whether the Presidential Panel is defunct. David Rasnick has categorically stated that it is not. Perhaps he, or Gordon Stewart, would be so kind as to tell us on what occasions it has met since July 2000, or when the next meeting is to be held? Surely it is quite safe to say this particular Norwegian Blue Parrot, er, ...sorry, Panel, has ceased to be?

(1) Makhanya, Mondli. Mbeki shuns Aids dissidents; Scientists ordered to stop using President's name. Sunday Times (Johannesburg) - Sunday 21 April 2002.

(2) Turner, Valender. AIDS is not a party political problem. Mail and Guardian (SA) 25 April 2003.

Competing interests:   None declared