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The cost of South Africa’s misguided AIDS policies 0

AIDS activists and researchers argued for years that the negligent HIV/AIDS policies of former South African President Thabo Mbeki were causing a massive, unconscionable loss of human life.

Now, thanks to the doctoral thesis of a student at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), they know the full extent of the damage.

More than 330,000 people died prematurely from HIV/AIDS between 2000 and 2005 due to the Mbeki government’s obstruction of life-saving treatment, and at least 35,000 babies were born with HIV infections that could have been prevented.

These estimates appeared online in October in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome in a study by HSPH’s Pride Chigwedere, who graduated with a doctor of science in immunology and infectious diseases in June of 2008. Chigwedere laid South Africa’s heavy toll from HIV at the feet of Mbeki, who delayed launching an antiretroviral (ARV) drug program, charging that the drugs were toxic and an effort by the West to weaken his country. Mbeki withdrew government support from clinics that had started using AZT to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. He also restricted the use of a pharmaceutical company’s donated supply of nevirapine, another drug that helps keep newborns from contracting HIV.

A DOCTOR’S SUSPICIONS
Chigwedere, a physician, came to HSPH in 2000 from Zimbabwe, where he had watched his AIDS patients die because no ARVs were available. For two years, he worked on an AIDS vaccine design as a research fellow with Max Essex, the Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences and head of the HSPH AIDS Initiative. After enrolling as a doctoral student, Chigwedere shifted his attention to working on ARV drugs. Initially he focused on drug resistance. This led him to look more deeply into why the drugs were not widely available in Africa.

Some countries’ track records suggested policies that were “inappropriate or frankly wrong,” says Chigwedere. Chief among the transgressors was South Africa.

Continue reading on Harvard School of Public Health Magazine

by Amy Roeder

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