Sometimes, when reading about the AIDS Denialism that was (is?) our government’s approach to HIV and AIDS, I get a lightbulb moment and understand what Mbeki was saying. Some of it anyway.
I just had such a moment.
I once was in an argument with someone about medicine, true health care, and medically resolving a problem. If the patient is not comfortable, even extremely uncomfortable, with the treatment, is he then treated & the problem truly resolved?
The situation presented to me was of a poor black South African man who was having headaches and battling to see. He went to a western science doctor and to a traditional healer.
The western doc gave him glasses. The headaches ended but the man never liked or trusted the glasses and rather never wore them. He ended up choosing headaches over the western medical “solution”.
The traditional healer gave him a muti that did not take the headaches away either. And it didn’t give him better sight.
My opponent argued that this man was stupid. Because the solution was clear, and the poorly-sighted man was refusing it for muti that was doing nothing.
My argument was that neither solution had won or helped this man. And that this man was not stupid for not being comfortable with a western medical solution. There are countless ideas or approaches that each person rejects in life because we do not trust them or are not comfortable with them.
The man must be comfortable & embrace a solution for it to be a successful solution. Western medicine does not have all the answer and does not solve all the problems. Despite what its disciples argue to others.
I have even more examples, including a person who chose death over chemotherapy. Medical science did not solve her problem, even though it claimed to. Another person I knew well chose death through heartbreak over life and antidepressants.
Western medical science can create a pill or a pair of glasses. This does not mean it has solved the medical problem. I am not discounting the incredible achievements of medical science. But that a problem needs to be solved holistically, sustainably, and this goes beyond chemicals or tactile inventions.
Mbeki argued that ARVs are that pill, that tactile invention. But they will not necessarily resolve the root of a HIV-positive person’s medical concern, and they definitely will not solely resolve the HIV pandemic in his country.
Which is why our government continues to promote Prevention campaigns as much as it addresses treatment issues. Nutrition and a healthy life style can do incredible things and do play a role in an HIV-positive person fighting the disease within their body. Poverty has played a key role in the macro-level transmission of HIV. When you cut away the hysteria & simplicity, Mbeki had some valid points. If taken into account in the nationwide fight against HIV, these points work towards a holistic solution.
The difference between Mbeki rejecting ARVs for South Africa’s Public Health system and the elderly man rejecting a pair of glasses is, Mbeki never gave any of the other of millions of South Africans the choice.