South Africa: Activists and Unions Step Up Criticism of Government on AIDS
May 25, 2006
Ahead of next week's UN General Assembly conference on HIV/AIDS, health activists and trade unions in South Africa have increased their criticism of the government's handling of the epidemic. South Africa has up to 6 million HIV infections, the highest anywhere in the world. More than 210,000 patients are being treated with antiretrovirals (ARVs), but activists say a lack of political will means many more patients are unable to access treatment.
The government continues to drag its feet while the country faces "a crisis of infection, illness, and death as 1,500 new HIV infections and 900 AIDS deaths occur on a daily basis," said Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
"We need ARVs," the president of the National Union of Mineworkers said at the union's annual conference. "This human culling must be stopped. South Africa has the resources to assist us to do so," Senzeni Zokwana told the miners. "The health minister must not come with beetroot." This was an allusion to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has been criticized for stressing the risks and side-effects of ARVs while touting a diet rich in beetroot, garlic, lemon, and olive oil.
TAC also noted the recent death of Nozipho Bhengu. The daughter of a national politician, Bhengu gained prominence by publicly shunning ARVs in favor of a garlic-based diet prescribed by one of Tshabalala-Msming's closest advisers. "Nozipho Bhengu's death shows the urgent need for science, truth, leadership, and personal responsibility to lead the HIV and AIDS response," TAC said. Bhengu's death should serve as a warning for people relying on the "natural cures" and micronutrient supplements that are proliferating in South Africa, the group added.
Tshabalala-Msimang said she is proud of the government's response to its HIV/AIDS epidemic, noting that federal spending on the disease has increased tenfold since 1994, and condom distribution went from 270 million in 2003 to 346 million in 2004.
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