By Ansie Thom

The Star (SA) 3 March 2000

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has expressed a willingness to reconsider the government's decision not to supply anti-retroviral drugs to pregnant women.

Tshabalala-Msimang said on Thursday she had not shut the door on supplying these drugs to pregnant women. She also confirmed she was exploring the appointment of about 30 African and international experts, expected to meet in South Africa before the end of the month, as part of an expert advisory panel on HIV/AIDS.

The panel will be asked to suggest viable therapeutic options for HIV/AIDS in Africa. This would include the treatment of HIV/AIDS and opportunistic infections, general prevention of the disease, prevention of mother-to-child infection, prevention of HIV infection following rape or needle-stick injuries, and local evidence regarding the causes and diagnosis of AIDS.

Tshabalala-Msimang said she would reconsider the government decision on anti-retroviral drugs if the expert panel came to another conclusion. "But it would require an ingenious solution to the funding challenges," she said.

She was, however, still convinced that the government's decision was right, given "the available evidence and special circumstance in our country".

While admitting that South Africa's response to the AIDS epidemic would always be "too little and too late" for those infected or affected, Tshabalala-Msimang said the government had taken a step towards finding treatment solutions to the disease.

The minister denied claims that the establishment of the panel and possible inclusion of so-called dissidents meant that she had doubts about the existence of AIDS.

"The dreadful statistics speak for themselves, but we would be foolish to exclude anybody from the debate," she said.

The minister added that once the panel had been briefed, its findings would be published on the Internet within six to eight weeks.