There should be a judicial commission of inquiry into the role of President Thabo Mbeki and his officials’ in “experiments on poor African people,” according to the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

TAC chairperson Zackie Achmat said there was prima facie evidence that illegal and unethical experiments were conducted on people living with HIV/AIDS in Tanzania using a toxic and unregistered substance Virodene.

It will not be the first time that Mbeki’s name has been linked to Virodene, an industrial solvent that Achmat said would be better used “to clean black marks off whiteboards.”

In 1997 and 1998 government intervened on several occasions trying to influence the Medicines Control Council (MCC) decisions to not allow clinical trials to be conducted on humans with Virodene.

Health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is reputed to have visited sites in Tanzania in 2001 where the trials were being conducted. Mbeki was a vocal supporter of Virodene when it first appeared on the scene.

The TAC said that there was evidence that the Office of the Presidency, Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang were involved in these trials after the MCC and University of Pretoria ruled them unethical and in contravention of the law.

Weekend news reports claimed:

  • Throughout 2000 and into early 2001 approximately R40-million was handed over by representatives of the Presidency to Olga and Zigi Visser, the lead developers of Virodene. This money was regularly and routinely collected in briefcases containing US$100 notes directly from the Union Buildings as well as from the Johannesburg offices of an unnamed ANC-linked businessman.

  • An unnamed source in the articles, stated to be a former insider within the Virodene research team, claims that the money received from the Presidency went towards “researching, promoting and developing the drug” in South Africa and Tanzania. This claim is allegedly substantiated by hundreds of emails, letters and faxes handed over to the Weekend Argus.

  • Between September 2000 and March 2001, during the period of time that the Presidency was diverting funds towards Virodene’s development, the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force conducted human trials of the drug on behalf of the Virodene research team.

    “State support for AIDS denialism and pseudo-science emanating from the President and the Minister of Health over the last decade has led to unnecessary and preventable loss of the life,” the TAC statement said.

    TAC Treatment Literacy Co-ordinator Vuyiseka Dubula said the unchecked flooding of the South African market with untested “AIDS cures” had everything to do with “our leadership”.

    “If the MCC was allowed to operate independently it would be able to do its job. We wish these people could be stopped without us having to resort to all these processes,” she said.

    Achmat said the Virodene incident had “destroyed” the MCC which had since been unable to operate independently without political interference.

    Achmat said the TAC would be putting the call for a Judicial Commission in letters to the President and the Minister of Justice, but he would not be drawn on what steps could be taken should the request be ignored.

    “Future steps of action will be announced in the next few days,” he added.

    The TAC also took aim at Christine Qunta, incumbent chair of the SABC board who has been a long-time attorney for another controversial vitamin seller Matthias Rath, who conducted illegal scientific trials in Khayelitsha using his multi-vitamins Vita Cell.

    “There should be disbarment and criminal proceedings against Christine Qunta because of her activities with the company Comforters Healing Gift, which has sold unregistered medicines for the treatment of AIDS to members of the public,” said Dubula.

    TAC said that Qunta’s involvement in this company, as well as her support of other AIDS pseudoscience, rendered her an inappropriate choice for the SABC board let alone its head.

    Achmat said the TAC would “seriously” look at steps to have the decision revoked should Qunta be appointed. “We are not going to leave this,” he said.

    Qunta is a director of the company Comforter’s Gift which markets its fake HIV/AIDS cure as “Ancient African Wisdom.”

    Anso Thom

    Health-e News Service

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