South African President Thabo Mbeki appealed to principles of free speech in his defence of Aids denialism. A case study by Casey Selwyn.
Aids denialism is a movement which claims that HIV does not cause Aids and that antiretroviral drugs – the most effective available method of treating Aids to date – are poisonous and promoted by a profit-driven pharmaceutical industry. In South Africa, a country that has experienced one of the most severe Aids epidemics in the world, President Thabo Mbeki, his health minister and numerous other high-level officials endorsed the concept of denialism in the early 2000s, often appealing to principles of free speech as justification for questioning the origins of Aids and the efficacy of anti-retrovirals as treatment. Public health researchers have estimated that approximately 343,000 Aids-related deaths are attributable to the South African government’s endorsement of denialism between 1999 and 2007.