South Africa’s Health Minister's Misguided Belief

Outline of the Diet Health Minister Manto was a Champion of to Treat HIV/AIDS. She refused antiviral medicine, a proven class of drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, to millions of people.

Published July 8, 2014, last updated on October 5, 2017 under Voices of DGHI

By Brittany Davis

Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was accused by many for being responsible for the untimely death of over 300,000 South Africans during her time serving as South Africa’s Health Minister. Many South Africans refer to her as “Dr. Beetroot” which was coined in a negative response to her stance on HIV/AIDS treatment. She believed that the South African AIDS epidemic could be treated with alcoholic beverages, fruits, and vegetables such as garlic, lemon, African potatoes and beetroot1,2.

"Shall I repeat garlic, shall I talk about beetroot, shall I talk about lemon... these delay the development of HIV to Aids-defining conditions, and that's the truth." – Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang3 (6.7.2006)

Although South Africa has the largest number of HIV-infected people in the world, it was this misguided belief that led her to refuse providing Zidovudine to HIV-positive mothers. Zidovudine is an antiviral drug that has been shown to dramatically reduce the transmission of HIV from a mother to her unborn child. This led to many children contracting the disease which could have been avoided with medication. 

Unfortunately again following her misguided diet theory, she also refused to give out antiviral medication to the general HIV-positive South African population. This was in spite of the fact that antiretroviral therapy is well established to improve quality of life and potentially be lifesaving4.

 “Today I want to dispel this myth, because it is absolutely not true [that antiviral medication works]. The pharmaceutical industry and those who have a vested interest in the drug industry fuels this propaganda.” – Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang3 (11.7.2000)

“We (the South African ANC government) have no plans to introduce the wholesale administration of these drugs in the public sector. ARVs (Antiretroviral medications) are not a cure for Aids.” – Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang3 (11.8.2000)

The painful Catch-22 is that South Africa, due to the government's confusion, was left without proper education, prevention, treatment and care. Today, South Africa, in collaboration with colleagues around the world, are visibly working hard to provide the proper education for prevention and treatment to their people.



[1] Wines M. Official in furor on AIDS policy in South Africa is hospitalized. New York Times. 2007 Feb 23. Available from: Accessed: July 3, 2014.

[2] Wine M. Under fire, South Africa shakes up its strategy against AIDS. New York Times. 2006 Nov 3. Available from: Accessed: July 3, 2014.

[3] Manto Tshabalala-Msimang Quotes. Available from Accessed: July 2, 2014.

[4] Louwagie GM, Bachmann MO, Meyer K, Booysen Fle R, Fairall LR, Heunis C. Highly active ntiretroviral treatment and health related quality of life in South African adults with human immunodeficiency virus infection: A cross-sectional analytical study. BMC Public Health. 2007;7:244