A former U.N.
envoy accused South Africa's leader of presiding over an
''AIDS apocalypse,'' saying Wednesday that President Thabo
Mbeki's dismissal of the country's widely praised
deputy health minister last week crushed a glimmer of
hope in the fight against the epidemic.
who recently retired as U.N. special envoy on HIV/AIDS in
Africa, called for international pressure on the government
to implement an ambitious anti-AIDS campaign.
''It is said that
900 men, women, and children die every day in South
Africa of AIDS-related illnesses. It's Armageddon every 24
hours,'' Lewis wrote in an opinion piece for South
African newspapers. ''Other than South Africa, every
government in the high-prevalence countries is moving
heaven and earth to keep its people alive.
accused by activists of being in denial about HIV/AIDS, last
week fired deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge,
who had clashed openly with the president's close
ally, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Mbeki
said Madlala-Routledge refused to act as part of a
Tshabalala-Msimang has been the object of international
criticism for promoting garlic, lemons, and beets as
therapy for people with AIDS, and for her open
mistrust of antiretroviral medicines.
''No matter the
astuteness of his economic policy, social interventions,
financial acumen, or peacekeeping initiatives across the
continent, he will always be known as the president
who presided over the AIDS apocalypse,'' Lewis said.
''It's a terrible
legacy with which to haunt the pages of history.''
Tshabalala-Msimang was recently sidelined with health
problems, and her deputy revitalized the drive against
the AIDS virus, which has affected an estimated 5.4
million South Africans--the second-highest number in
the world. An estimated 900 South Africans die daily
of the disease and more than 1,000 people are newly
infected, many of them young women.
After years of
inaction, the government launched a new five-year
strategic plan in March that set ambitious targets to halve
the number of new infections and extend treatment to
more than 80%of adults in need by 2011.
Action Campaign, a group that represents people with
HIV/AIDS, said that it would be watching the government to
see if it was serious in its insistence that
Madlala-Routledge's dismissal would not harm the new
said the government must achieve the short-term targets
of putting an additional 120,000 adults on treatment by the
end of this year (currently 280,000 people are
receiving treatment); ensuring that 70% of pregnant
women are tested for the AIDS virus; and ensuring that
60% of HIV-positive women receive drugs to stop them from
passing the virus to their unborn child.
Action Campaign, which enjoyed good relations with
Madlala-Routledge and repeatedly clashed with her boss, said
public should pressure Mbeki to reinstate the ousted
But it was Lewis
who most harshly criticized Mbeki and his health
minister and the ''demented absurdity of beetroots.''
will scoff. But he's running against the universal tide
of public dismay,'' wrote Lewis, who is now co-director of a
nongovernmental organization called AIDS Free World.
There was no
immediate comment from top government officials, who are
attending a southern African summit in Zambia. (AP)