The views of South African President Thabo Mbeki - who has expressed doubts whether HIV causes AIDS, ascribing the disease to poverty - have stimulated 5000 scientists and doctors from over 80 countries to sign a declaration stating that the virus really does cause the disease.

The issue is crucial for two reasons: first because South Africa faces one of the worst AIDS epidemics in the world, and if the country doubts the cause of the disease health interventions will go awry; and second because the XIII International AIDS Conference starts in Durban on Monday 9 July and other developing countries may be influenced by Mbeki's views.

"The evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV-1 and HIV-2 is clear-cut, exhaustive and unambiguous..." says the so-called 'Durban Declaration'. "The data fulfill exactly the same criteria for other viral diseases such as polio, measles and smallpox."

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