South African Government Calls for Development of National HIV/AIDS Treatment Program by October
August 11, 2003
The South African government on Friday showed a "turnaround" in its position on a national program to provide antiretroviral medications to residents with HIV/AIDS and called for the Health Ministry to develop such a program by Oct. 1, South Africa's Mail & Guardian reports. The announcement came after a special meeting of the cabinet to consider a Joint Health and Treasury Task Team cost report on providing HIV/AIDS drugs to the public (Deane, Mail & Guardian, 8/9). South Africa has five million people living with HIV/AIDS -- or more than 11% of its 43.8 million people -- the largest number of HIV-positive individuals of any country in the world, according to UNAIDS (SAPA/Mail & Guardian, 8/10). The cabinet said in a statement, "Government shares the impatience of many South Africans on the need to strengthen the nation's armory in the fight against AIDS. Cabinet will therefore ensure that the remaining challenges are addressed with urgency and that the final product guarantees a program that is effective and sustainable" (Kraft, AP/Long Island Newsday, 8/9). The cabinet also said that the program will follow World Health Organization guidelines that describe the most effective combinations of antiretrovirals and the "simplest acceptable laboratory tests" to monitor their use, the New York Times reports (Altman, New York Times, 8/9). According to the cabinet, "Policy and funding commitments made in the last two years leave South Africa well placed to offer a comprehensive package of prevention and care in the health sector" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 8/9). The South African Health Ministry, assisted by South African HIV/AIDS physicians and researchers and experts from the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation HIV/AIDS initiative, will develop the program (South African Press Association, 8/9). According to people close to former President Clinton and South African AIDS policy, Clinton has urged South African President Thabo Mbeki to address HIV/AIDS treatment, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Cost Still Needs To Be Determined, Health Minister Says
Concerns Over Implementation, Leadership
Reaction From Advocates
While many AIDS advocates lauded the announcement, some advocates "privately expressed skepticism," the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 8/11). Treatment Action Campaign Chair Zackie Achmat said that he will "wait to see the actual operational plan before celebration." He added, "For all of us living with HIV in South Africa, and our families, this is the first sign of hope" (New York Times, 8/9). TAC officials on Saturday said that the group will end a civil disobedience campaign against the HIV/AIDS policies of the South African government (Graham, Agence France-Presse, 8/10). Earlier this month, TAC voted to renew a civil disobedience campaign to force the South African government to provide antiretroviral medications to residents with HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/6). Professor Jakes Gerwel, chair of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said, "The government's decision is great news for the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS," adding that former South African President Nelson Mandela and the foundation are "overjoyed by the government's announcement." Eric Goemaere, head of Medecins Sans Frontieres in South Africa, said that the group supports the announcement, adding that MSF has "witnessed first-hand the daily devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, the clinical benefits of ARV treatment, and the hope that the availability of treatment brings to the community" (Agence France-Presse, 8/10). HIV-positive South African Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Edwin Cameron said that he was "elated and optimistic" about the "irreversible commitment by government" to establish a national HIV/AIDS plan, adding, "I think this is going to translate within months into many lives being saved. ... There is a long hard road ahead and at least we've now embarked on it" (Sunday Times, 8/10). Swazi Hlubi, executive director of the Network of AIDS Communities of South Africa, said, "Our hopes have been raised and crushed many times before ... we will watch closely to ensure that ARV treatment truly becomes a reality" (Agence France-Presse, 8/9).
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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.