Friday, January 15, 2010

Death of Dr Beetroot

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was also known as Dr Beetroot. She was South Africa's health minister from 1999 to 2008. She obstructed the delivery of anti-retroviral drugs to AIDS patients. It is believed that this policy hastened the deaths of a third of a million people.

She went into exile with future President Thabo Mbeki in 1962 and trained to be a doctor in what was then Leningrad. She was later convicted of stealing from patients while working in Botswana and struck off the medical register. Despite knowing about her background Mbeki appointed her health Secretary when he became President. She suggested that beetroot, garlic, olive oil, lemon and African potato were more efficient at treating AIDS than anti-retrovirals. She refused to offer nevirapine to HIV+ pregnant women even when it was offered for free by the drug company, despite an order from the Constitutional Court. She organised a trial of the lethal organic solvent, virodene from which the ANC hoped to make money, even after the South African regulator refused permission.

Her catalogue of crimes continued. She sacked the head of the Medicines Control Council who refused to support the government's campaign to get rid of AZT and even dismissed her own deputy in attempt to cover up her uselessness. Under her control, public hospitals, clinics and equipment fell into disrepair. Inefficiencies, incompetence and corruption led to many hospitals failing to provide or be provided with water, electricity, telephones and drugs. Nurses, underskilled and unwilling to work went undisciplined as did doctors who failed to turn up for work. During her period of 'control', South Africa was one of only 12 countries in the world that went backwards in such measures as maternal and infant mortality,and child health. Things were worse for the black population than in the days of apartheid.

Stephen Lewis, the United Nations Special Envoy on AIDS called her, "obtuse, dilatory and negligent." She was a drunk and a thief, according to the South African Sunday Times. Her first liver transplant failed and she was accused of jumping the queue for a second one. She died on 16th December 2009 from complications of her first transplant while still queueing.

I obtained this information from her obituary in the British Medical Journal. You couldn't make it up.

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