South Africa's new health minister broke dramatically Monday with a decade of discredited government policies on AIDS, declaring that the disease was unquestionably caused by HIV and must be treated with conventional medicine.
Health Minister Barbara Hogan's pronouncement marked the official end to 10 years of denial about the link between HIV and AIDS by former President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
Activists also accused Tshabalala-Msimang of spreading confusion about AIDS through her publicly stated mistrust of antiretroviral medicines and promotion of naturopathic remedies such as garlic, beet root, lemon, olive oil and the African potato.
"We know that HIV causes AIDS," Hogan said at an international AIDS vaccine conference. Monday's speech was her most high-profile public appearance since she was appointed health minister two weeks ago by President Kgalema Motlanthe, who replaced Mbeki after he was turned out of office by his party.
"It was imperative to get ahead of the curve of this epidemic 10 years ago," she said. "We all have lost ground. It's even more imperative now that we make HIV prevention work. We desperately need an effective HIV vaccine."
She was applauded and praised by international scientists and public health officials.
"A breath of fresh air," said Alan Bernstein of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.
South Africa now has the world's highest number of people with HIV, about 5.4 million.
Hogan said that more than half of all public hospital admissions are AIDS-related and more than one-quarter of the national health budget goes to fighting the disease.