South Africa's denial of AIDS and President Mbeki's belief that AZT is poisonous, and instead, reliance on traditional healing, has led it to be the number one most HIV-infected country in the world. Because of the belief that traditionalists could cure, or even manage HIV/AIDS, millions of people have been denied the cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) that could have saved their lives, a move that effectively murdered hundreds of thousands of South Africans.
It was only through the work of people like Zackie Achmat and TAC, and support from Nelson Mandela, WHO's AIDS Division Chief Jim Yong Kim and Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa, who broke diplomatic ranks and called the South African government "obtuse, dilatory and negligent" that change finally came. It was not until 2006 when deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge stepped forward and said the government had been "in denial at the highest levels" about the success of ARVs that change finally began.
There is no success against fighting or managing AIDS using traditional African medicine, although it certainly has its merits elsewhere. To suggest so at this point, when life-saving ARVs are finally becoming available in large quantities to most African countries, is a huge step backward.
Suggested reading: "28: Stories of AIDS in Africa" by award-winning journalist Stephanie Nolen.