Monday, November 14, 2011

Lemon AIDS -- Writer's Poke #338


Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang served as South Africa’s Minster of Health from 1999 to 2008; she was rather notorious for her views on AIDS, arguing that a diet of lemons, beetroots, and garlic was a fine way to delay the development of HIV.
As far as I know, this woman wasn’t stupid. She was a real doctor, having received medical training in South Africa, the Soviet Union, Tanzania, and Belgium. So why did she support a nutritional approach as the best way to combat HIV as opposed, say, to using a more conventional (and scientifically-based) approach, such as treating the disease with anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs)?
Politics.
Apparently South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, didn’t believe that HIV caused AIDS, and so, until his cabinet finally overruled him and voted that it did in 2002, ARVs weren’t available to the general population.
Africa was, and still is, trying to find itself. Tshabalala-Msimang supported the idea that Western medicine didn’t always know best, and that Africa should look to its own traditions to find the answers it needed to solve the AIDS crisis. Part of Africa’s “ancient traditional knowledge” apparently included waging war on disease with lemons, beetroots, and garlic.
In the 21st century, it seems a bit incredible that a Health Minister of a major world country could promote such views, doesn’t it?
How can we make sure that beliefs don’t ever stand in the way of evidence?
“If we only said safe sex, use a condom, we won't stop the spread of AIDS in this country.” --
South African President Thabo Mbeki
"Shall I repeat garlic, shall I talk about beetroot, shall I talk about lemon... these delay the development of HIV to Aids-defining conditions, and that's the truth." -- Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, South African Minister of Health (2006)

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