ANC Accuses US of Treating South Africans as Guinea Pigs
December 20, 2004
Pretoria: South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress, has accused the US government of treating Africans like "guinea pigs" by promoting the use of the anti-Aids drug nevirapine.
The bitter attack in the party's online newsletter, ANC Today, accused top US health officials of having conspired to hide the adverse effects of the drug when it is used to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection.
US officials have denied the charges, which have renewed a long-simmering battle between the president, Thabo Mbeki, and anti-Aids activists.
The unsigned article is believed by many to have been written by Mr Mbeki himself, who has for years been opposed to the use of western drugs to combat Aids. Mr Mbeki's government is accused of dragging its feet in making anti-Aids drugs available tothe country's poor.
South Africa has the world's highest number of people with Aids, estimated at nearly five million.
In recent weeks, Mr Mbeki has stirred controversy in the ANC newsletter with signed articles in which he called the anti-apartheid crusader Archbishop Desmond Tutu a "charlatan" and criticised prominent businessmen and journalists.
The new article says the US government hid evidence that nevirapine was a dangerous drug in order to use it to treat unsuspecting Africans.
It said US officials "entered into a conspiracy with a pharmaceutical company to tell lies to promote the sales of nevirapine in Africa, with absolutely no consideration of the health impact of those lies on the lives of millions of Africans".
The ANC said that George Bush and his government, which distributed the drug across Africa, must be "held accountable".
The Bush administration has denied hiding any information about nevirapine and maintains that the single-dose treatment is a safe way to reduce the chances of mother-to-child transmission.
Many health experts in Africa also say that nevirapine is safe, although tests on the drug in Uganda were flawed, due to administrative problems, and earlier this year an Italian non-governmental organisation said single doses of nevirapine should be replaced by a much costlier but less risky alternative.
Sant'Egidio said that nevirapine left too many babies born with HIV, did not extend the lives of mothers, and was responsible for growing resistance to other anti-Aids drugs.
In this week's unsigned article the ANC also accused South Africa's leading anti-Aids group, the Treatment Action Campaign, of being part of a plot to market unsafe drugs in South Africa. The article said the TAC was "desperate to ensure that the truth does not undermine its drug marketing campaign".
TAC's leader, Zackie Achmat, said his organisation was demanding an apology. "Several of us want to sue the ANC for defamation. We have to consider that very carefully and we will put it to our executive committee for a decision in early January," he said in an email to the Guardian.
The TAC has successfully sued the government to force it to make antiretroviral drugs available to South Africa's poor through government hospitals. Mr Achmat said that a new lawsuit against the ANC would force the ruling party to explain its stance on HIV/Aids and on antiretroviral treatment.
Mr Achmat, who takes nevirapine as part of his antiretroviral treatment, said the ANC article appeared to have been written by Mr Mbeki.
"As usual, President Mbeki and certain of his colleagues prefer unsigned attacks on the TAC, rather than to show the courage to declare their views on HIV publicly."
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