SOUTH AFRICA COURT SAYS GOVERNMENT MUST GIVE ANTI-AIDS DRUG
By John Mkhize
Reuters 4 April 2002
Johannesburg -- South Africa's highest court dealt a
significant blow on Thursday to the government's controversial AIDS policy,
with an interim ruling that it must supply a key anti-AIDS drug to
HIV-infected pregnant mothers.
The Constitutional Court rejected a government appeal against a similar
ruling last month by the Pretoria High Court, which ordered that the
anti-retroviral drug Nevirapine be provided in all state hospitals -- albeit
"The application for leave to appeal is dismissed," the court said in the
latest twist of a bitter legal battle between the government and anti-AIDS
South Africa has more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country in
the world, according to the United Nations.
But, citing cost and safety grounds, the government has so far limited the
use of Nevirapine, which is known to cut the risk of HIV/AIDS mother-to-child
transmission, to pilot projects.
Campaigners fighting the spread of the virus said widening access to
Nevirapine could save 10 babies a day.
Thursday's ruling only forces the government to provide the drug until May
2-3, when its main appeal to the Constitutional Court will be heard.
That hearing will decide if the government has a constitutional duty to give
Nevirapine to HIV-infected pregnant women.
President Thabo Mbeki has drawn widespread criticism at home and abroad for
questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and refusing to allow wide access
to anti-retroviral drugs, saying they are costly and toxic.