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Mainstream scientists on AIDS panel 'embarrassingly ill-prepared' an AIDS 'dissident' interviewed
Marjolein Harvey
July 12, 2000
iClinic - July 12, 2000

During President Mbeki's presidential AIDS panel meeting in late June, it was embarrassing to see how ill-prepared with their statistics and data the members of the orthodoxy actually were.

So says dissident AIDS scientist and economic historian Charles Geshekter, one of the scientists on the presidential AIDS panel, in an interview with iClinic on Tuesday.

Geshekter teaches African history at California State University in Chico. He has served as an adviser to the US State Department and several African governments. He is attending the AIDS2000 conference in Durban this week. He goes on to say: "That I found very saddening: they were just not able, at any level, to maintain the debate. They have just not been challenged before as vigorously as we have tried to challenge them. They seem to me to be running scared." Geshekter says that the dissident group simply sought to clarify the data the mainstream scientists were presenting, but could not get the assurances they asked for.

Geshekter says that the emphasis in the AIDS fight is wrong. There should instead be "a march for toilets and clean water, for food rather than AZT or nevirapine. President Mbeki is trying to bring public health back onto centre stage and that is what is lacking at this AIDS conference." Geshekter describes Judge Edwin Cameron as "alarmist", and says of Cameron's speech on Monday at the conference: "It is just an indication that he is one of the many who are locked into the same AIDS mantra." When asked what the community of dissidents have to offer to the many millions who are sick and dying today of AIDS, Geshekter said: "I don't know exactly what we can offer anyone - we are scientists, we are academics, we are social critics.

Geshekter, who has published works entitled Reappraising AIDS in Africa and the The Epidemic of African AIDS Hysteria, says: "I have studied Africa intensely for the last 35 years. I am very alert and hypersensitive to racist stereotypes around black people and sex and the exaggeration of numbers about any social phenomena in Africa.

"It's those two issues that struck a nerve with me about 12 years ago. Most of the stories about AIDS in Africa start with two things: shocking statistics and allegations about African sexuality. One of the things I have been trying to do is to scrutinise those numbers and challenge the stereotypes." To that extent, says Geshekter, it is a way of "lifting this suffocating fog, this doomsday scenario which the members of the media and delegates at this AIDS conference just can't seem to get enough of".