SOUTH Africa's top scientists and researchers have come out in support of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi after the furore over Aids death statistics he quoted recently.
The statistics, supplied by Home Affairs might be incorrect.
The apparent error has emboldened Aids denialists who now claim the 2008 deaths were deliberately exaggerated because "big Aids numbers are good for business" - but scientists are saying the "mistake" is of little consequence considering the burden of the Aids epidemic, including the high number of deaths.
"(It's) as if the scale of the Aids devastation needs to be artificially inflated and overstated for it to be taken seriously," the letter from the scientist group said.
"As a vivid reminder of the cynical questioning of Aids-related mortality we have witnessed in the past, the seeds of doubt are ever-present regarding the extent to which Aids mortality is increasing or decreasing - and which one of the many death rates most accurately reflects the South Africa reality.
"Each one of us, as doctors and scientists who deal with HIV on a daily basis in this country, sees the pain, knows the suffering, is aware of the premature loss of life and unequivocally appreciates that Aids is the number one cause of death in South Africa."
The signatories include Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in SA; Francois Venter, president of the HIV Clinicians Society; Helen Rees, director of the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit; Laetitia Rispel of the Centre for Health Policy and Lynn Morris of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
They present statistics from their own studies, which reveal the following:
lWith only 0,7percent of the world's population, South Africa has 17percent of the world's HIV-Aids cases - the greatest burden of HIV infection in the world;
lIt is estimated that about 5,4million people were infected with HIV in South Africa in 2006;
l From 2006 to 2008, 29percent of pregnant women were HIV positive, with little change over the three years;
l New infections have continued to occur over the past three years;
lThe number of deaths have risen substantially from 1998 to 2006 with Aids largely responsible for the increase in deaths of young adults. "The increase over the 9 years is evident, regardless of whether data is from Stats SA or Home Affairs," they said.
lHIV-Aids has taken South Africa off track in the quest to reach the Millennium Development Goals, dealing with child and maternal mortality.
"In short, the available information points indisputably to the heavy toll imposed by HIV-Aids on South Africa with unacceptably high rates of HIV infection and Aids mortality," the signatories said. - Health-e News