As the Covid-19 vaccine rollout draws nearer it is hard not think of a parallel moment in the HIV/Aids pandemic almost two decades ago — the advent of antiretroviral medicine, the first and only treatment to halt death from Aids.

A question hanging over the country then was whether South Africans would choose to get treatment once it became available. There were all sorts of reasons why they should not. Primary among them was the much-publicised view of then president Thabo Mbeki, who believed Big Pharma had concocted Aids treatments to make money from Africans and make them ill. He was not just the president, but the leader of a movement whose claim to have liberated SA was at the height of its credibility. His views carried much authority...

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