South Africa Seeks New Start on AIDS Fight
November 29, 2006
In South Africa, where AIDS kills at least 900 people every day, the government is about to release a revamped strategy aimed at preventing HIV transmissions and treating more of those already infected.
The new policy follows intense criticism at home and abroad from activists and health experts who accused the nation of "lunatic" negligence in its AIDS fight. President Thabo Mbeki questioned the link between HIV and AIDS; Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang long balked at approving the widespread use of antiretrovirals to treat the disease.
The new five-year plan, to be unveiled on Friday, World AIDS Day, seeks to respond to the government's critics. "We believe in good faith that there has been a real change of heart," said Sipho Mthathi, general secretary of Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
Leading the effort will be Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the new chief of South Africa's National AIDS Council, who has promised to work with activist groups like TAC. Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge has now eclipsed Tshabalala-Msimang in the public spotlight.
However, some continue to doubt the sincerity of the new effort. They note that Tshablala-Msimang will take part in the launch on Friday, and they worry that numerical targets for getting patients on antiretrovirals may not be part of the package.
Marta Darber of Doctors Without Borders charged that early drafts of the policy were inadequate and were developed without sufficient community input. Still, she acknowledged the policy shift represents progress. "This is about science-based strategy and facts-based policy making, something which has not happened to a large extent," Darber said.
11.29.2006; Wendell Roelf