August 24, 2006
Today across South Africa, AIDS activists will take to the streets to demand the resignation of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The protests come amid a new report that estimates the country faces as many as 9 million new HIV cases by 2025 if the epidemic goes unchecked.
"We face a crisis of HIV infection, illness, and death. Above all, we face a crisis of governance," said Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the AIDS lobby group calling for the protests.
At the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, the South African government was criticized for downplaying the role of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in HIV treatment while promoting home-grown treatments such as beetroot, garlic, and lemon. President Thabo Mbeki's government said it has one of largest ARV programs in the world but insists that nutrition and traditional medicine must be part of AIDS efforts. The country has some 5.4 million HIV/AIDS cases.
TAC said Tshabalala-Msimang, once referred to as "Dr. No" for her reluctance to promote ARV treatment, must go and demanded the government call a national meeting to address the crisis.
TAC, which is credited with pressuring the government into launching the ARV program in 2003, has stepped up its protests in recent days. Several of its members were arrested last week for occupying government buildings in Cape Town. TAC supporters said more occupations are possible. "We are willing to risk arrest because our people are dying," said Vuyiseka Dubula, a group spokesperson.
Research by leading AIDS insurance risk consultant Nathea Nicolay, presented at a conference in Durban this week, said the country could see 8.7 million new infections by 2025 in a worst-case scenario. However, as many as 5.9 million of these could be avoided if government and businesses coordinate their response on treatment and prevention, she said.