SOUTH AFRICA GOVERNMENT TO APPEAL AIDS RULING
By Steven Swindells
Reuters 19 Dec. 2001
Johannesburg -- South Africa's government said on Wednesday
it would appeal a high court ruling that HIV-positive pregnant women are
entitled to a drug found to reduce a newborn's risk of contracting the virus.
"We have instructed our legal counsel to appeal the judgment to the
Constitutional Court on this matter," Minister of Health Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang said in a statement.
The plan to appeal provoked an outcry from AIDS activists and child health
workers, who argue that President Thabo Mbeki's government has acted too
slowly to fight mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which causes AIDS.
"This will result in further unnecessary infections," AIDS activist group
Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) spokesman Nathan Geffen told Reuters.
The South African Council of Churches urged the government to get the drug
where it was needed and the white-led opposition Democratic Alliance (DA)
called the government's move madness.
"It equals a death sentence for thousands of babies that could otherwise be
saved... Once again, they are fiddling while Rome burns," DA leader Tony Leon
The Pretoria High Court ruled on Friday that the government had a
constitutional duty to expand access to the anti-retroviral drug nevirapine,
which has been shown to cut mother-to-child infection rates by up to 50
The TAC had launched the court action, arguing that the government had a duty
to offer nevirapine. It said it was confident it would win the appeal, as
fundamental rights were being denied under current government AIDS policy.
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.
Five million of South Africa's 45 million people, or one in nine, are
estimated to be living with HIV.
As many as one in three mothers at some rural antenatal clinics are infected
with HIV, according to government figures.
The judge had ordered the health department to return to court by March 31 to
show how it would offer a national nevirapine programme, which the government
has refused to do because of cost and safety concerns.
The South African government said the high court ruling had consequences for
the role of the executive and the judiciary under the constitution's
separation of powers.
"We came to the conclusion that this judgment could have far-reaching
implications in defining our constitutional democracy and in shaping the
state's responsibility for the delivery of social services,"
The government said it would develop a programme centred on preventing
mother-to-child transmission of HIV-AIDS rather than providing nevirapine.
There are side effects from nevirapine, but medical experts say they are
limited and the drug is a life-saver. Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim, which
makes nevirapine, has offered to provide the drug free to South Africa for
The government's approach and commitment to curbing the pandemic has been
widely criticised, especially since Mbeki has questioned widely held findings
about HIV, including whether it causes AIDS.
Mbeki has said anti-retrovirals do as much harm as the condition they are
meant to treat and he has appointed so-called "AIDS dissidents," who believe
AIDS is caused by recreational drug use, to his advisory panel on the