A 300-page report by the Academy of Science of South Africa has come up with a truth. A nutritious diet is no substitute for anti-retroviral drugs in the treatment of HIV, AIDS and TB.
The report was carried out by a 15-member team of top South African scientists from all relevant fields. The work behind the report was begun in 2005.
AdvertisementIn essence, the scientists "found no evidence that healthier eating is any substitute for correctly-used medical drugs", according to chief operations officer, Dr Xola Mati.
"One of our most important findings has been that nutrition is important for general health, but is not sufficient to contain either the HIV and AIDS or the tuberculosis epidemic," corroborated panel member Dr Dan Ncayiyana, editor of the South African Medical Journal. "We need a well-nourished nation. But a well-fed population on its own is not going to resist HIV and AIDS without anti-retroviral drugs", he added.
The report clarifies that though poverty contributes to HIV, AIDS and TB it does not cause the diseases."Neither poverty nor malnutrition is the cause of HIV and AIDS or tuberculosis," stresses Professor Este Vorster, director of the Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research at North West University in Potchefstroom.
"South Africans need to eat a healthy diet, with a variety of daily fruit and vegetables. But if you've been tested for HIV and AIDS and you know your status, you need to also know that supplements cannot compensate for eating healthily.
"In the same way, eating healthily cannot compensate for anti-retroviral drugs when indicated by a doctor. For both HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis, we have to rely on the appropriate medical drugs", he added.
At the same time, the scientists clarified that this did not mean that nutritional intervention had no role in the management of HIV and AIDS or TB, especially where in places where nutritional deficiencies were rife.
The panel comprised nutritionists, immunologists, biochemists, infectious disease physicians, pediatricians, policy experts, epidemiologists and generalists.
The report has already been made available to the government. It also suggests recommendations on public policy and calls for more research.
Ripples from the report are likely to touch the embattled Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
Though minister does not rule out the use of ARVs against HIV and AIDS, she is widely criticized for her strong emphasis on good nutrition in battling it. Tshabalala-Msimang has publicly focused on the benefits of beetroot, garlic and lemons in the management of the disease.
The report was quoted: "Until these remedies have been proven to do more good than harm, the panel cannot support their use". The scientists also note that the consumption of virgin olive oil, African potato and garlic could, in fact, be harmful.
Such underplaying of ARVs and focus on alternative therapies have contributed to the ongoing conflict between the minister, health professionals, AIDS activists and opposition parties.
The report also adds that: "Recent public debate about the value of certain foodstuffs and supplements in the management of HIV and AIDS as well as claims of benefit and cure arising from unproven diets and therapies have caused confusion within communities and among health care workers".
Currently South Africa is witnessing a surge in the number of cases pinned down to extensively drug-resistant TB; XDR-TB, which is virtually incurable.
Meanwhile a South African newspaper is challenging a court order stopping it from reporting any further about the health minister's medical past.
When the Sunday Times alleged that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang drank alcohol whilst in a Cape Town private clinic in 2005, Johannesburg's High Court ordered the paper to return all copies of the minister's medical records it obtained.
The clinic that carried out her liver transplant earlier this year denies allegations that she jumped queues.The case is being called a test for South Africa's freedom of expression by the media.
Jovial Rantao of South Africa's National Editor's Forum (Sanef) was reported that Sanef respects an individual's right to privacy except when that right conflicts with public interest.
"In this particular instance Sanef believes that the public interest should take precedence," he said.
Meanwhile, the opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), has proposed a motion of no confidence in the health minister and is calling for her dismissal. Yet, South Africa's ruling African National Congress is standing behind the beleaguered health minister.