SOUTH AFRICA SAYS NO TO ANTI-AIDS PLAN FOR MOTHERS
Reuters 21 Feb. 2002
Cape Town -- South Africa will expand research into the use
of Nevirapine to limit mother-to-child transmission of the virus that
causes AIDS, but will not make the drug universally available, the
"Universal access will be decided upon when important questions have
been answered by the research," the government said in an
advertisement prepared for publication on Friday.
The advert was drafted amid an escalating ruling party row over the
use of the drug, which has been offered to South Africa free for the
next five years by makers Boehringer-Ingelheim.
President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
have so far insisted that Nevirapine, shown in international research
to block infection in more than 50 percent of births, can be provided
only in 18 pilot sites involving 215 hospitals and satellite clinics.
They have cited safety, cost and capacity issues as obstacles to
The advert reaffirmed that the government would go ahead with its
appeal against a court order granted to AIDS activists demanding
universal access to Nevirapine at all state hospitals.
It said the appeal was not against the AIDS program but to determine
finally "whether the courts or the elected government decides on the
detail of providing health services."
Premiers of the two provinces not controlled by Mbeki's African
National Congress(ANC) -- the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal -- have
announced plans to extend the Nevirapine program to all hospitals
under their jurisdiction.
On Monday Mbhazima Shilowa, the ANC premier of Gauteng province, which
includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, broke ranks with the government
and said he would make the drug available to all HIV-infected women
His position was supported by the ANC-aligned Congress of South
African Trade Unions (COSATU) and by health activists, but Shilowa was
repudiated by the health minister and the ANC, whose spokesman accused
him of political point-scoring.
In an apparent signal of a government change of heart, Finance
Minister Trevor Manuel on Wednesday increased funding for AIDS
prevention, including the Nevirapine program, three-fold in his budget
for fiscal 2002/03.
The government appeared to close the debate with the advertisement,
which was approved by Mbeki's cabinet on Wednesday and distributed to
reporters ahead of publication.
"Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV forms part of the
government's program of HIV-AIDS prevention.
"It is also part of a broader strategy to combat HIV-AIDS that depends
critically on building partnerships across society," the advert said.
South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV-AIDS in
the world. With one in nine of the country's people believed to be
infected, medical researchers fear that up to seven million people
could die of AIDS-related illnesses by 2010.
Health authorities say more than 100,000 babies are born HIV-positive