South Africa Ordered to Offer AIDS Care
August 29, 2006
On Monday, a South African judge rejected the health and prison ministries' appeal of an earlier ruling ordering that they provide antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to inmates with HIV/AIDS at Durban's Westville Prison.
In May, the AIDS Law Project (ALP) filed an urgent application to compel the government to expedite ARV treatment of infected prisoners. In June, a judge ordered South Africa's government to provide ARVs to all prisoners needing treatment. The Department of Corrections (DOC) appealed that ruling, saying previously that it has done its best to provide ARVs to prisoners.
At Durban's High Court Monday, Judge Chris Nicholson cited the ministries of health and corrections for contempt of court for ignoring the order to provide ARVs. He again ordered the South African government to immediately provide ARVs to sick Westville prisoners. One of the prisoners died during the litigation.
"If the Government of the Republic of South Africa has given such an instruction not to comply with the execution order, then we face a grave constitutional crisis involving a serious threat to the doctrine of the separation of powers," Nicholson wrote in a 21-page judgment.
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which filed suit against the government on behalf of 15 Westville prisoners with HIV/AIDS seeking ARVs, lauded the ruling.
"It's one of the most critical judgments we've had," said Sipho Mthathi, TAC's general secretary. "This judgment has to be one of the most damning judgments of government conduct since the advent of our new constitutional order in 1994," said Mark Heywood, spokesperson for ALP.
DOC said it would respond to the ruling only after "studying the court decision properly."
Nicholson said there is "precious little that can be done" to hold the state to account for a contempt of court order. However, Nicholson gave the department until September 8 to prove it is complying with his order.
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.