Karim warns against political pressure swamping science

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If scientists compromise on science and give in to political pressures during the scourge of COVID-19, the pandemic may end up killing more people, just like HIV/Aids did during Aids denialism. The Times reports that this was according to Professor Abdool Salim Karim, director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa and chair of the COVID-19 ministerial advisory committee, who told delegates at the 23rd International Aids Conference that scientists on the front line of COVID-19 should always “stand by science”.

The report says responding to a question on what other low income and middle income countries could learn from South Africa’s response to COVID-19, Karim said books could be written on the subject, especially in Africa where many people who have led and developed expertise in the battle against HIV are now in the front lines of COVID-19. “I would say the central issue I have found is to separate science from the politics. As scientists we must stay true to our science because I can assure you there are many political pressures that will try to define how our country is dealing with this problem,” he said.

“As investigators, as scientists, over many years we have always stood up for what was right, whether it was against Aids denialism and whether antiretroviral therapy worked. We’ve always stood on the side of science. We knew if we did that we will be giving advice and providing leadership on the basis of principle.”

Karim told delegates he had personally witnessed instances where things had gone astray in disease management. He said this was because “science was not really accepted as the dominant paradigm”.

“We saw the same with HIV, where science was not used as effective paradigm. People questioned things and we ended up with people dying. With COVID-19 it is exactly the same situation. I had to deal with this in the front lines with HIV so I can tell you from personal experience what that entails.”

The Times notes that one of the country’s top scientists who recently came under fire in government circles  is Glenda Gray, Wits professor of paediatrics, SA Medical Research Council president and a member of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee.

Full report in The Times

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