You cannot treat HIV/AIDS simply by eating good food. This seems like a pretty straightforward thing to say. So why would this statement be considered newsworthy?
Place the statement in the South Africa, add a background ideological struggle about traditional medicine vs. modern biomedicine -- itself a proxy for disputes about the legacies of colonialism and neo-colonialism on the African continent -- and the banal statement suddenly becomes charged with new meaning. The current South African Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
, has long touted the benefits of beetroot, garlic, lemon and African potatoes for HIV and AIDS patients while warning about the toxicities of anti-retroviral treatments. Unfortunately, her beliefs about the benefits of nutrition and the evils of pharmaceuticals have watered down her commitment to increasing access to drugs for HIV-positive South Africans. There was always the suggestion that the garlic (and the like) could act as substitute
for AIDS drugs, the sort of fatal advice you might expect from a sociopath, not a health minister. Speaking of which: when the deputy minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, started making unambiguous statements about the relationship between HIV and AIDS, and made a serious efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS across the country, there was only one reasonable course of action: find some dirt on her, and have her fired
Opponents of Manto Tshabalala-Msimang needed to find a way of promoting healthy nutrition to strengthen the immune system of HIV positive persons without contributing to AIDS denialism. Last week, the Academy of Science of South Africa issued a report entitled HIV/AIDS, TB and Nutrition. In it, a fifteen member panel concludes that while proper nutrition is important for general health and the link between nutrition and the human immune system should be the object of further research, the claim that any food or food supplement can substitute for anti-retroviral therapy has no scientific basis whatsoever. In this way, the Academy paid the Minister a compliment: they treated her like a lousy scientist, rather than a madwoman.