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The controversial HIV/AIDS policies of former South African president Thabo Mbeki caused the deaths of 365,000 people — including 35,000 babies — between 2000 and 2005, researchers at the US-based Harvard University have estimated.

The policies included denying access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and failing to roll out treatment to help prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child.

The findings — along with the ousting of Mbeki in September — have reignited questions about why he ignored the scientific consensus and why his colleagues did not challenge his stance earlier.

Mbeki became convinced in 1999 that HIV was not the cause of AIDS, in line with a group of dissident scientists. Those who disagreed with him feared reprisals if they spoke out, and those who did were humiliated and derided.

Later, Mbeki conceded that HIV could be one cause of AIDS alongside malnutrition and other diseases. He also believed that ARVs were toxic, and the scientific consensus was based in racist views and driven by money- and power-hungry drug companies, governments and scientists.

The new African National Congress government has appointed a health minister, Barbara Hogan, who has embraced the scientific consensus on HIV/AIDS. She replaces Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who supported garlic, lemon juice and beetroot as remedies.

Link to full article in the International Herald Tribune