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A document written by top officials in South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party is reported to question the existence of AIDS, to state that HIV tests are ineffective and to describe AIDS drugs as “poisonous”.

The document was circulated among members of South Africa’s National Executive Committee (NEC), who attended a meeting from 15 to 17 March to discuss the government’s policy on AIDS, according to ANC parliamentarian Peter Mokaba.

According to The Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the report, it questions the “scientific story that is told about the HIV/AIDS pandemic”, echoing views that have been raised by President Mbeki in the past.

The press agency reports that Mokaba defended the document, saying, “Science says all of those things that are quoted in there”, and highlighting the need to see both sides of the AIDS debate. “We cannot be stampeded into any one position by people whose interest is merely to sell anti-retrovirals”, he said.

But Saadiq Kariem, a senior ANC health policy official, is reported to have called the document “ludicrous”, saying: “It’s irresponsible for senior leaders of the ANC to be putting out documents of this nature”.

An official ANC statement, entitled ‘Lend a caring hand of hope’ and based on the conclusions of the NEC meeting, sends out a different message. Issued on 20 March, it describes the “assumption” that HIV causes AIDS as a key component of the government’s future strategy, as well as emphasising the critical role of poverty in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

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