South Africa's President Places Personal Stamp on AIDS Policy
April 25, 2002
President Thabo Mbeki delivered his strongest message yet on AIDS, placing his personal approval on a dramatic shift in the South African government's response to AIDS. In an interview on Wednesday in South Africa's Independent Newspapers, Mbeki said, "you need to inculcate into the minds of people that they, too, have a responsibility for . . . health." He was also quoted as saying, "you can't be going around having hugely promiscuous sex all over the place and hope that you won't be affected by something or the other."
The interview marks the president's first personal public shift from his earlier controversial position questioning the link between HIV and AIDS. Last week, however, Mbeki chaired a cabinet meeting that approved the distribution of antiretroviral drugs to rape victims in state hospitals. The government also announced plans to offer universal access next year to antiretroviral treatment to prevent HIV-positive women from infecting their infants at childbirth. A statement after the cabinet meeting said the body would act on the "premise" that HIV caused AIDS.
AIDS activists hailed the government turnaround as the most significant policy shift on the issue yet and urged the government to make up for lost time. Former president Nelson Mandela, who has lent his voice to criticism of the president's approach to AIDS, said on Wednesday he is relieved that the government has changed it policy. "These are responsible people who could not allow babies to continue to die," he said.
Experts estimate that one in nine South Africans is infected with HIV and say the disease could kill as many as seven million people in South Africa by 2010 if the state continued its controversial treatment and prevention strategies.
Wall Street Journal
04.25.02; Robert Block
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.