Health minister who advocated beetroot to treat HIV dies

FORMER South African health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, whose AIDS policies drew international opprobrium, died yesterday after battling liver disease, SAPA news agency reported.

Her doctor, Jeff Wing, said the 69-year-old former minister had died shortly before 1pm yesterday at Wits University medical centre in Johannesburg. She died as a result of complications arising from a liver transplant, the agency said.

Tshabalala-Msimang served as health minister in president Thabo Mbeki’s government from 1999-2008, when South Africa became known as the world’s worst-affected country in the worldwide fight against AIDS.

She shot to international prominence for defying scientific evidence of the causes and treatment of AIDS and stalling the rollout of desperately needed anti-retroviral drugs.

She was nicknamed “Doctor Beetroot” for promoting the supposed benefits of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and beetroot over anti-retrovirals as treatments for HIV sufferers.

Lack of the critical drugs has been blamed for more than 350,000 premature deaths in South Africa, according to a Harvard study.

An estimated 5.7 million of South Africa’s 48 million people have HIV, including 280,000 children, according to the UN AIDS agency.

South Africa’s policy under Mbeki was described by Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa as “obtuse, negligent and dilatory”.

Lewis, who made the remarks at the closing of an International AIDS conference in Toronto in 2006, said, of all the issues that had frustrated him about the global struggle to defeat HIV/AIDS, “South Africa is the unkindest cut of all”.

He said this was because it is the “only country in Africa whose government continues to propound theories more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state”.

President Jacob Zuma has since signalled a sharp break with past policy and presided over a remarkable turnaround since he took office in May.

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