President Thabo Mbeki’€™s controversial AIDS review panel meets tomorrow (Mon 3 July) for a second and final time, but insiders describe the body as having been a waste of time and money.

Government has said that the panel — which brought together 33 international experts including “dissidents” who do not believe that HIV causes AIDS ‘€“ will cost it R2-million of taxpayers’€™ money.

This money could have been used to treat over 66 600 HIV positive pregnant women with a single dose nevirapine, a drug which has been found to reduce the risk of HIV transmission from mothers to their babies at birth.

While the panellists are not being paid, they will each get R2 500 a day for three days “as a token of appreciation” and to cover “incidental costs while attending the meeting”, according to a letter sent to panellists by Department of Health official Ray Mabope.

Panellists have agreed to refrain from publicly criticising the panel until it has ended. But various key panellists have privately described debate between orthodox AIDS scientists and the dissidents as “debased”, “a meeting between the flat earth society and the round earth one” and “a terrible waste of time and money”.

Since the inaugural meeting of the panel in May, the 33 panellists and other imminent scientists invited to take part have been debating issues via a closed internet forum.

A four-person task team comprised of orthodox scientists Professor William Mokgoba, Dr Helene Gayle and dissidents Prof Peter Duesberg and Dr Harvey Bialy has also been conducting research on the link between HIV and AIDS.

The two-day meeting will address the aetiology (causes) of HIV, prevention, treatment, testing and surveillance and consider the findings of Mokoba’€™s task team.

The panel’€™s secretariat is allowing two 30-minute presentations on each of the topics ‘€“ apparently in recognition that there are two opposing views within the panel. These will be followed by 30 minutes’€™ discussion.

Mabope has appealed to presenters not to “rehash arguments” and to focus on making recommendations to government. ‘€“ Health-e News Service.


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