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Commentary & Opinion

South Africa: Credit Where It's Due

November 20, 2003

"... Yesterday's decision by the South African cabinet to approve a plan for the nationwide treatment of people living with HIV and AIDS is a milestone for a country that has one of the highest rates of HIV infection. Under the terms of the new treatment program ... up to 1.4 million South Africans should be receiving medicines which will extend their lives by years.

"That is a big deal because, until now, of the more than 4 million people in sub-Saharan Africa currently in need of medicine, only about 50,000 are receiving it.

"President Thabo Mbeki and his government deserve a lot of credit for bringing this historic moment about. ... Nothing less than the future of Africa is at stake. ...

"Three hurdles had to be overcome before a nationwide treatment program could go forward. First ... antiretroviral medicines had to become more affordable. My Foundation recently announced an agreement with four generic drug manufacturers to cut the cost of ARVs dramatically, to as little as 36-38 cents per day. ...

"Second, any AIDS treatment program had to meet what Mr. Mbeki calls 'the gold standard' of quality. ... The plan approved yesterday incorporates quality standards which will ... help reassure South Africans that [their] care ... is equal to that given people in developed countries.

"The third hurdle was one inherited from the apartheid era. South Africa still has great inequalities in its health care systems. ...

"The AIDS treatment plan envisions nationwide distribution of ARVs, bringing the medicine to rich and poor alike. ...The plan also invests significant resources to improve the health system overall, particularly in historically underserved areas. ...

"Despite clearing these hurdles, others remain. Creation of a nationwide treatment system requires careful administration of the drugs, a systematic program of testing and monitoring of patients, a major effort of community mobilization and many support services. It is also expensive even with the lower drug prices. ...

"But that long journey is now underway, with a very big step. ... And [South Africa's] experience will provide valuable lessons -- even a model -- for other large nations like India and China, once they embark along this very important path."

The author, the former U.S. president, is head of the Clinton Foundation.

Back to other news for November 20, 2003

Adapted from:
Wall Street Journal
11.20.03; Bill Clinton

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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.