MIFFED MANTO HITS BACK
SAPA 10 July 2000
Durban -- An irritated Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang on Monday said
South Africa was a proud nation that would devise its own health
policies and would not bend to pressure to conform to the
expectations of the industrialised world.
The Health Minister appeared to vent her frustration at criticism of the
government's HIV/AIDS policies when she addressed a media briefing at
the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban.
"It's not that we don't care (about AIDS), but the international
community put pressure on us and very few support us in getting on
with our business of transformation," she said.
Tshabalala-Msimang strongly defended President Thabo Mbeki, who has
been widely criticised for his interest in the debate between
"revisionist" AIDS theorists who question whether the HI virus causes
AIDS and scientists who hold more conventional views on the disease.
Many orthodox scientists had hoped Mbeki would withdraw his defence
of the so-called "dissident" scientists when he officially opened the
conference on Sunday night.
Mbeki, however, called on all parties to tolerate opposing viewpoints.
"The president of this country has never denied either the existence of
AIDS nor this causal connection between HIV and AIDS,"
"Why should he deny something he has not said? The media should
turn it around and report correctly."
The issues surrounding the HIV/AIDS debate were complex and
multi-faceted, she said.
When questioned about the government's reported unavailability to
meet with pharmaceutical companies to negotiate deals to buy
cheaper drugs, Tshabalala-Msimang said: "To say we are unavailable to
them ... I dismiss that outright."
She singled out the US-based drug manufacturer Pfizer as one of the
drug companies which had made offers to provide drugs to HIV
sufferers at a reduced cost, without consulting the government.
She said she heard media reports that the company would provide
Fluconozole to AIDS sufferers who had contracted cryptococcal
"I was not informed about this. I did not even know the terms of the
"Up to today I have not heard from them. Tell me who is unavailable,"
She also criticised Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron.
At the conference earlier on Monday, Cameron expressed
disappointment at Mbeki's support for the dissident theorists, as well
as the government's policy not to provide AZT to pregnant HIV positive
"The previous regime did not feature in his (Cameron's) address," she
Tshabalala-Msimang said that Cameron had failed to acknowledge that
the apartheid government had put few structures in place to fight AIDS
and the African National Congress had to establish such infrastructure
"This had never been done before."
The youth of South Africa had also subsequently been mobilised to
fight AIDS on a large scale, the minister said.
Commitment to combating AIDS
She emphasised the government's commitment to fighting AIDS,
reiterating that prevention and awareness were its primary goals over
the next five years.
Tshabalala-Msimang, who chairs the health sector of the Southern
African Development Community, told another briefing with four other
SADC ministers, that SADC would develop a drugs package which could
be negotiated with multinational pharmaceutical companies to suit the
specific needs of SADC member nations.
"This package will not focus only on the provision of anti-retroviral
drugs, but will address the issue of HIV-related interventions in a
holistic way ... including laboratory support, treatment of opportunistic
infections, infrastructure and capacity building."
The SADC statement was in response to the recent announcement by
the five drug manufacturers that they were willing to explore ways to
reduce the cost of the drugs needed to treat AIDS-related illnesses.