Thursday, December 17, 2009

South Africa HIV-row minister Tshabalala-Msimang dies

South African ex-Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, criticised for questioning whether HIV causes Aids, has died aged 69 from liver disease.

Her critics dubbed her "Dr Beetroot" for her advocacy of healthy eating rather than drugs to fight HIV. As health minister between 1999 and 2008 she maintained that anti-retroviral drugs were too expensive and had possible harmful side-effects. She was removed from the post when ex-President Thabo Mbeki stepped down. But a study last year claimed that more than 300,000 people had died prematurely because of the delay in rolling out the drugs to people with HIV between 2000 and 2005. Some 5.2m South Africans have HIV - the highest number of people living with the virus in one country in the world.

Potato remedy

The BBC's Karen Allen in Johannesburg says Dr Tshabalala-Msimang remained popular among many South Africans for her liberation credentials. She was a member of the African National Congress during its days of struggle in exile against the apartheid government. Dr Tshabalala-Msimang recommended olive oil, lemon, beetroot and the African potato as elements of a healthy diet that could treat the symptoms associated with Aids. Her doctor told the South African Press Association that she had died from complications related to her liver transplant in 2007.

Earlier this month, current President Jacob Zuma announced an overhaul of the government's HIV policy. He said drugs would be available more widely to children and pregnant women instead of just those whose immunity levels have been significantly reduced by HIV, as has recently been the case.

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