Accurate AIDS Figures for South Africa Hard to Find, Columnist Says
Reliable and accurate figures on AIDS cases and AIDS-related deaths in South Africa are difficult to come by, Ken Owens writes in his Business Day column, adding that what is available are only "estimates, extrapolations, assumptions, theories, guesses, lies, damned lies and statistics." The majority of AIDS data are based on the Doyle model or a new mathematical model developed by the Actuarial Society of South Africa. However, both of those models are based on blood tests of pregnant women attending antenatal clinics and "must be generally manipulated" to produce the figures, he writes. Owens states he has "no doubt of the excellence and integrity" of the calculations, but the math behind them is "impenetrable to a layman" and believing the figures is "essentially a matter of trust." South African President Thabo Mbeki does not trust the figures either, Owens says. In fact, "Mbeki seems so embittered that he distrusts anything emanating from his white countrymen if it seems disparaging of blacks," he states. Mbeki's distrust "seems justified almost daily by the distorted and propagandistic use of the statistics to raise money for NGOs, or to influence allocations of the medical and research budgets, or simply to produce another shocking headline," he adds. Lacking an "incontestable, central source of information," Mbeki has turned to his own research to support his position that HIV does not cause AIDS, calling for the reallocation of funds so AIDS-related monies are reflective of the "objective reality," which he says is that causes such as poverty and voilence are the nation's leading killers. Owens says that while Mbeki is correct that the public health efforts should be directed by objective reality, he states that the government should not "misallocate resources." He concludes, "If [Mbeki] is correct to think the threat has been exaggerated, nobody will thank him for averting a minor misallocation of funds; but if he is mistaken, and 'objective reality' manifests itself as an epidemic of funerals, he will go down in history as a buffoon and perhaps the author of a greater catastrophe than apartheid" (Owens, Business Day, 9/17).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.