DURBAN – More than 5 000 scientists re-affirmed their assertion that HIV causes AIDS and endorsed the Durban Declaration at the AIDS 2000 conference yesterday. (Thursday).

Conference co-convenor, Professor Jerry Coovadia said the document was not an attack on President Thabo Mbeki, nor was it intended to confront. Rather it was an important statement which had been drafted in the “least offensive language” possible, which aimed to make the science clear that HIV caused AIDS.

“We have 19 South Africans on the committee that formulated the document and 160 scientists in South Africa have signed it,” he said. “That takes care of   most of the scientists in this country who work with HIV/AIDS.”  

Referring to the controversy surrounding the Presidential AIDS panel and the questions raised over the link between HIV and AIDS, Coovadia said he hoped the AIDS 2000 conference would serve as a watershed to put “all of this behind us”.

A key figure in the initial drafting process of the Durban Declaration, Dr Chewe Luo of Zambia, said HIV was killing people and that should be the starting point of the discussion.  

“We need to move forward. We have interventions in place that we know work. This is where the emphasis should be,” she said.

She added that there were countries that were just beginning to confront AIDS in their societies and it was up to countries such as Zambia, South Africa and Botswana to share their experience and help them to understand the epidemic.

Another signatory to the declaration, Dr N M Samuel of India, said that his country had gone through a phase of denial. “We don’t want to duplicate in India what has happened in South Africa,” he said.  

When the Durban Declaration was first released in “Nature” magazine last   week (July 6), presidential spokesperson, Parks Mankahlana said it belonged “in the dustbin”.

One of the people who had initiated the declaration, Prof Charles van der Horst of the University of North Carolina said that Mankahlana’s statement had been “unfortunate”, but that it had been retracted immediately after it was made.