SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT UNPERTURBED BY AIDS DRUG RULING
Reuters 15 Dec. 2001
Johannesburg -- The South African government said on
Saturday it was unperturbed by Friday's court ruling obliging it to expand
access to a drug to help HIV-positive pregnant women save their babies from
It has also indicated it will not immediately comply with Pretoria High Court
Judge Chris Botha's decision compelling the government to roll out a national
programme to provide the low-cost AIDS drug nevirapine to expectant mothers.
"It's not a blow to government policy. Our strategic plan talks about
prevention as well," Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said on
Saturday, without giving more details.
"Our lawyers are studying the documents and the government will make a
statement next week," she added.
In a statement issued late on Friday, the health department questioned the
government's obligation to comply with the court decision.
"Government is studying the detail of the judgment in order to establish its
premise, including such critical issues as the role of the judiciary in
relation to executive policy decisions," it said.
Observers say they believe the government will appeal against the decision.
The AIDS activist group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), backed by doctors,
launched the court action, arguing that the government had a duty to offer
nevirapine under the constitutional right to health treatment.
Between 70,000 and 100,000 babies are born HIV-positive every year in South
Africa, which has more people living with HIV-AIDS than any other country in
the world. One in nine South Africans are estimated to be HIV-positive.
A dose of nevirapine -- a tablet given to the mother during labour and a
teaspoon of syrup to the baby within the first 72 hours of birth -- can cut
infection rates by up to 50 percent.
The government also said in its statement, as it has before, that it was
committed to extending the drug to all state clinics and hospitals, but would
wait for the results of a small nevirapine pilot project it launched earlier
A health department spokesman told Reuters he was not sure when the project
would end or when the results would be available.
Under Friday's court ruling, the health department has to return to court by
March 31 to show how it will offer a national nevirapine programme, which the
government has so far refused to do citing cost and safety concerns about the
Although people are known to experience some side-effects from taking the
drug, medical experts say they are limited and that the drug is a life-saver.
Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim, which makes nevirapine, has offered to
provide the drug free to South Africa for five years.
The government's approach and commitment to curbing the pandemic has been
widely criticised, especially since President Thabo Mbeki questioned whether
HIV caused AIDS.