On August 8, South African President Thabo Mbeki dismissed his Deputy Health Minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a well-respected figure in the international HIV/AIDS world. In a letter to Madlala-Routledge explaining his decision, Mbeki complained that the deputy minister had traveled to Madrid in June on official business without his approval. She traveled to Madrid, to attend a high-level international seminar about AIDS vaccines at the invitation of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). Once there, Madlala-Routledge has said, she learned that the President had turned down her request to travel to the conference; she left Madrid, and thus did not attend the June 13 seminar.
IAVI regards the matter of Madlala-Routledge's dismissal as an internal issue of the South African government. However, the organization would like to echo the sentiment of President Mbeki, who thanked Madlala-Routledge for her participation in government over the years. In addition, IAVI would like to acknowledge Madlala-Routledge for her enormous contributions toward combating AIDS and her tremendous commitment to the mission, and for serving as a great spokeswoman for those affected by this horrible disease.
IAVI would like to state that it invited Madlala-Routledge to the June 13 seminar in her capacity as Deputy Minister of Health. The invitation from IAVI and the event co-host, the Spanish NGO Grupo de Trabajo sobre Tratamientos del VIH (gTt), was issued according to the prescribed South African government procedure for inviting government ministers and with the knowledge and approval of the appropriate managers of IAVI and gTt. The seminar, titled "AIDS Vaccines R&D: a Critical Contribution to Global Development," attracted government ministers, parliamentarians, senior officials, scientists and civil society leaders from various countries. Attendees included Spain's Minister of Health and India's Minister of Science and Technology.
IAVI thought it was important to include a high-level representative of South Africa's Health Ministry because of the effect of the AIDS epidemic on South Africa, the important contribution South Africans are making to AIDS vaccine research, and other efforts made recently in South Africa to address the disease, efforts captured in the country's newly launched five-year national strategic plan on HIV/AIDS and sexually-transmitted infections.