Denialism again rears its head in South Africa's worst-hit province

Peggy Nkonyeni, provincial Minister of Health in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal, the province that accounts for a quarter of HIV cases in that country, has been in the news recently for a denialist-inspired crusade against her own doctors. Earlier this year, a doctor at the rural Manguzi hospital was threatened withbdisciplinary action for providing two drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, allegedly in contravention of national guidelines (the dual therapy protocol is standard, recommended by the WHO and superior to the Nevirapine-only protocol used until recently in South Africa). After threatening a doctor for not unnecessarily letting infants be infected, she made the following extraordinary statement:

AZT is toxic and must be controlled. Dual therapy has not been agreed upon. ... We have a problem with doctors who work in rural areas. They do not care about people. It is all about profit and not about caring for people.

She then had another doctor suspended who placed her portrait in a dustbin in anger at this statement. (See Jonathan Berger's piece More Manto than Manto.) The Treatment Action Campaign and AIDS Law Project in South Africa have now laid a complaint with the country's Human Rights Commission.

That she is being influenced by denialist ideas is clear. This is a woman who has been observed consulting books by the notorious vitamin entrepreneur and denialist Matthias Rath. She has also argued that HIV is a "bioterrorism" or "biological warfare" agent manufactured to "target a particular community", echoing the mad conspiracy theories that Jeremiah Wright also recently cited.

It seems the fight against official denialism in South Africa is far from over.