A new study by Harvard researchers estimates that the South African government would have prevented the premature deaths of 365,000 people earlier this decade if it had provided antiretroviral drugs to AIDS patients and widely administered drugs to help prevent pregnant women from infecting their babies.
The Harvard study concluded that the policies grew out of President Thabo Mbeki's denial of the well-established scientific consensus about the viral cause of AIDS and the essential role of antiretroviral drugs in treating it.
Coming in the wake of Mr. Mbeki's ouster in September after a power struggle in his party, the African National Congress, the report has reignited questions about why Mr. Mbeki, a man of great acumen, was so influenced by AIDS denialists.
For years, the South African government did not provide antiretroviral medicines, even as Botswana and Namibia, neighboring countries with epidemics of similar scale, took action, the Harvard study reported.
The Harvard researchers quantified the human cost of that inaction by comparing the number of people who got antiretrovirals in South Africa from 2000 to 2005 with the number the government could have reached had it put in place a workable treatment and prevention program.
They estimated that by 2005, South Africa could have been helping half those in need but had reached only 23 percent. By comparison, Botswana was already providing treatment to 85 percent of those in need, and Namibia to 71 percent.
The 330,000 South Africans who died for lack of treatment and the 35,000 babies who perished because they were infected with H.I.V. together lost at least 3.8 million years of life, the study concluded.
Epidemiologists and biostatisticians who reviewed the study for The New York Times said the researchers had based their estimates on conservative assumptions and used a sound methodology.
"They have truly used conservative estimates for their calculations, and I would consider their numbers quite reasonable," James Chin, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Public Health, said in an e-mail message.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Gee, you ignore overwhelming scientific consensus on an important issue and things turn out badly. Who'd've thunkit?