AIDS activists are sharply criticizing former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma’s testimony at his rape trial about HIV/AIDS. Zuma is accused of raping a long time family friend.
Nathan Geffen is a spokesman for South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, one of the country’s largest organizations campaigning for greater access to anti-retroviral treatment. From Cape Town, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.
“We in the Treatment Action Campaign are concerned about a number of statements that former deputy president Zuma has made under testimony. For instance, his justification for not using a condom was that there’s a low risk of transmission from women to men. Now, the first thing that needs to be said about this is that there are over two million men in South Africa who have been infected with HIV and the vast majority of them received HIV through having sex with women. So, it’s a very irresponsible thing to have said or to believe. And the second irresponsible statement that he made was that he took a shower after sex because this would reduce the risk transmission. And there’s nothing in the medical evidence, which suggests that showering after sex reduces the risk of HIV transmission. Only wearing a condom is a reasonably effective way of reducing HIV transmission during sex, during penetrative sex,” he says.
This is not the first time a controversial statement has been made at high levels about HIV/AIDS. Around 2000, President Thabo Mbeki questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, causing a storm of controversy prior to the international AIDS conference in Durban.
Geffen says, “Tragically, it’s hardly a month that goes by where a senior member of government, the Minister of Health, cabinet minister doesn’t make a pseudo-scientific statement about HIV. And it’s very damaging for the response to the epidemic. And we’ve been trying to urge government to take a more responsible attitude toward the epidemic, take a more scientific attitude toward the epidemic.”
While he says some progress has been made, the Treatment Action Campaign wants the president and health minister to go on the media everyday and warn people about the risks of HIV/AIDS.