South Africa: State Plaudits for AIDS Activist Achmat
November 6, 2006
On Wednesday, South Africa's Health Ministry signaled its recognition that it can better fight HIV/AIDS by joining forces with civil society activists than by sidelining them.
"We were embarrassed, severely embarrassed as a country," Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, deputy health minister, said in reference to widespread criticism of South Africa at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto. "We have been in denial at the very highest levels" that current programs are not working, she said before a panel discussion at the University of Cape Town. The deputy minister then thanked Treatment Action Campaign's Zachie Achmat for motivating the country's AIDS treatment program by refusing to take antiretrovirals until they were publicly available and free.
"We need as a country to thank him," Madlala-Routledge said. "He risked his own life so that treatment with antiretrovirals could be made free of charge in our public health facilities." Achmat was a panel participant.
Madlala-Routledge's statements were perceived as the latest signs that Health Secretary Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's unorthodox views about AIDS are not shared by many senior government officials. The government has recently appointed Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to lead its AIDS efforts and devise a new AIDS strategy, which will be announced on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.
The health secretary provoked international fury when she advocated food such as garlic, lemons and African potatoes over drugs for AIDS treatment. UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis described South Africa's former AIDS stance as "obtuse, dilatory and negligent." In addition, 81 AIDS authorities wrote to ask President Thabo Mbeki to fire Tshabalala-Msimang, saying she had "expressed pseudo-scientific views about the management of HIV infection" and is "an embarrassment to the South African government."
Business Day (Johannesburg)
11.02.2006; Tamar Kahn
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.