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Reuters New Media
South Africa Goes Back to Basics on AIDS
Steven Swindells
October 24, 2000
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa sought to draw a line under the damaging controversy surrounding its handling of HIV-AIDS by going back to basics on Monday, delivering a simple message on safe sex and promising to treat HIV.

The government took out advertisments in newspapers urging its citizens to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS by following the ABC of safer sex--"Abstain from sex, Be faithful to your sexual partner, Condomise!" Pretoria also said it would unveil new guidelines on Tuesday on how it planned to tackle human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which threaten to become the country's number one problem.

South Africa has one of the fastest growing infection rates in the world and AIDS already affects one in ten of the country's 43 million people.

The directness of the advertisements was in contrast to months of confusion sparked by President Thabo Mbeki's stance on the disease.

Mbeki has been greeted with scorn by many in the scientific and diplomatic community after he doubted the link between HIV and AIDS and denied anti-AIDS drugs to pregnant women and rape victims on cost and safety grounds.

Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela last year, has also attracted controversy by appointing so-called "AIDS dissidents", some of whom argue AIDS is caused by recreational drug use, to his own AIDS advisory panel.

"The advert was prompted by the fact that we thought it would take people back to basics about HIV-AIDS. The political debate and the semantics debate has taken the ordinary man in the street away from the basics," said a spokesman for the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).

Mbeki has said he never denied HIV causes AIDS but believes others factors, notably poverty, are at the root of the disease.

Press reports said Mbeki had now decided not to comment further on the AIDS debate after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) said it was confusing public policy.

A government statement said the Department of Health would announce nine sets of guidelines on its policies for the prevention, treatment and support of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

The guidelines will include HIV testing, treatment of HIV-positive people and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the disease.

Earlier this month the health department announced it was extending trials of the drug nevirapine, which can cut the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance will make the provision of anti-AIDS drugs a major campaign issue at local elections in December.