CAPE TOWN -- A study by South African scientists said yesterday there was no evidence that foods such as garlic and beetroot were a substitute for AIDS medicine, disputing claims by the country's health minister.
The report -- confirming what experts worldwide have said -- was likely to increase pressure on the minister, who has been ridiculed for promoting olive oil, garlic, lemon, and the African potato for people with AIDS and for questioning the effectiveness of anti-retroviral drugs.
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is also under fire because of the dismissal of her deputy and over newspaper allegations her liver transplant may have been needed because of alcohol abuse. Recent news reports also said she was banned from Botswana for 10 years in the 1970s after being accused of theft at a hospital.
"The panel has concluded that no food, no component made from food, and no food supplement has been identified in any credible study as an effective alternative to appropriate medication," said professor Barry Mendelow, one of the authors of the 300-page study by the Academy of Science of South Africa.
The 15-member panel said healthy eating does appear to help slow the progression of AIDS and tuberculosis. But it cautioned that there was little reliable evidence about the influence of nutrition on the diseases.
"This contrasts dramatically with the huge cloud of often acrimonious controversy that hangs over the subject and has become a source of widespread concern in, and about, the government, both within and outside the country," the panel said.
Tshabalala-Msimang's spokesman could not be reached for comment on the report.
Controversy about the country's AIDS policy has raged for years, with critics accusing the government of doing too little to slow the epidemic, which affects an estimated 5.4 million South Africans. An estimated 900 people die each day of the disease in South Africa, and some 1,400 are newly infected. A report last year warned that only half the 15-year-olds now alive would live to celebrate their 60th birthdays.
In April, the government finalized a plan to halve the number of new infections by 2011 and extend treatment and care to 80 percent of those in need. But AIDS activists voiced concern about the commitment to those targets after the dismissal this month of Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who was widely credited with revitalizing the AIDS campaign.
President Thabo Mbeki said he fired the deputy for not working as part of a team.