The South African government announced Wednesday that it is "exploring a cost-effective way" to provide antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive individuals, in response to an ultimatum by AIDS activists and the Congress of South African Trade Unions to develop a comprehensive AIDS treatment plan by the end of February or face an ongoing campaign of civil disobedience. Health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, in the first public response to the ultimatum issued in late 2002, said that the ministry is working with the country's treasury to determine the cost of a state-funded antiretroviral drug program.
According to health officials, the government under its current budget can afford to provide antiretrovirals to only 480,000 of the 4.5 million HIV-positive South Africans. Government officials are expected to announce details of their plan next month. The government has previously resisted providing antiretroviral drugs to the public and even to hospitals, saying they are expensive, unproven, and toxic.