The 20th anniversary celebrations of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), held today in Khayelitsha, offers an opportunity to reflect on the battles that were being waged against Aids denialism at the time. Among the many battles fought, the ones that played themselves out in Khayelitsha made a more substantial contribution in the eventual victory of science over denialism than is perhaps appreciated. Here is a part of the story.
By 1997, South African already had the largest HIV epidemic in the world. Adult and paediatric wards in the Western Cape, as in all other provinces, were filling up with very sick patients. The children were especially heartbreaking.
So when trial results from Thailand showed that a short course of AZT monotherapy could cut the transmission of HIV from pregnant mother to child by half, the HIV team in the provincial government acted with speed to implement a prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme.
A feeling of hope permeated the health services that finally something tangible could be offered as a treatment.
Khayelitsha was the obvious destination for the start of the programme as it had the highest HIV prevalence in the province and was also the largest township by population. The...