SAPA 14 Dec. 2001

The Democratic Alliance has expressed its delight at the verdict of Pretoria High Court Judge Chris Botha that the government must state how it intends extending the anti-HIV/AIDS Nevirapine drug programme by the end of March.

"It is the most powerful statement yet of the harmfulness of the government's AIDS policies in general, and its policies on mother-to-child HIV transmission in particular," DA spokesperson Manny da Camara said earlier today.

"We thank the TAC (Treatment Action Campaign) for its persistence in demanding what all South Africans should be able to take for granted government policies that are humane and just."

The Western Cape's mother-to-child programme, which now covered 95 percent of the province, could provide the government with a ready-made blueprint for the extension of the programme, he said.

"If the government were to choose to use this, a plan for the extension of the programme could be ready long before March.

"The government has a lot of catching up to do before its policies on AIDS meet even basic standards of acceptability.

"We hope that it will not use this judgment as an opportunity to denigrate the courts, but that it will accept it and move on to saving the lives of the thousands of babies born every day at risk of HIV-infection," Da Camara said.

The New National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party also welcomed the court ruling. NNP spokesperson Dr Kobus Gous said it had always been part of NNP policy that everything possible should be done to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"This includes providing anti-retrovirals to all HIV-positive pregnant women in order to prevent the transmission of the virus from mother to child, and also providing anti-retrovirals to rape victims."

He called on the government to extend their "pilot projects" to the rest of the country.

"It is surely only a matter of time now before the treatment of HIV/AIDS sufferers with anti-retrovirals will become a reality," Gous said.

The IFP's Dr Ruth Rabinowitz said if the court ruling was to amount to anything, several changes in government policy would be required.

"Firstly there must be more open testing on pregnant women, instead of the existing emphasis on anonymous testing.

"Secondly there must be more willing partnerships with the private sector to assist with monitoring of people on Nevirapine.

"If these changes are made it will be to the benefit of the entire health system and could lead to extending the treatment to others such as rape victims and children."

It would also be important to combine Nevirapine treatment with more programmes to deal with orphans, Rabinowitz said.

In another statement, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) also welcomed the judgment as a "victory for all mothers who are HIV positive".

"The government must now comply with the judgment and make the drugs available to all those mothers who need them, as quickly as possible.

"Cosatu congratulates TAC on its determination to fight for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

"Parents have now been given hope that their unborn children can be protected from the disease."

The federation said it would work closely with TAC, other civil society organisations and the government, to mobilise support for a massive campaign to make people aware of the extent of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, measures that could be taken to avoid infection and a treatment action plan.

The South African Communist Party (SACO) also welcomed the judgment but said it regretted that the matter had to go to court.

"The reality of HIV/AIDS requires that people and government together are mobilised to maximise our collective response," the SACP said in a statement. The judgment was an important step forward in the struggle for access to affordable and efficient healthcare for all.

The SACP called on all South Africans, government, religious leaders, political leaders, trade unions, women, workers, young people, and all civil organisations to work together to prevent new HIV infections and ensure that people with HIV/AIDS get life-prolonging and effective treatment.

The United Christian Democratic party (UCDP) also welcomed the judgment. "This ruling is an indication that the government has been playing down the value of these drugs and we therefore say it is in the interests of the country that they don't appeal against the decision," said UCDP chairperson and MP Sipho Mfundisi.

He urged the government to instead concentrate on starting the process of administering the drugs.