On Wednesday, South African minister of finance Trevor Manuel allocated 2.1 billion rand (U.S. $320 million) over three years to provide anti-HIV drugs to some of the nation's HIV-positive population. The announcement follows the government's November decision to offer antiretroviral treatment to HIV-positive South Africans and it comes two months before general elections in the country. Activists, who vigorously campaigned for the government to begin public treatment, say that delays in starting antiretroviral distribution have already cost thousands of lives. According to Manuel's budget speech, South African provinces would spend 373 million rand (U.S. $56.2 million) on treatment in 2004-2005, 648 million rand (U.S. $97.6 million) in 2005-2006 and 1.1 billion rand (U.S. $165.7 million) in 2006-2007. The total is 200 million rand (U.S. $30.1 million) more than previous estimates.
The health department has invited pharmaceutical companies to submit offers to provide drugs for the treatment programs. Government official believe about 50,000 people will receive anti-HIV medications in 2004, rising to as many as 1.4 million people by 2009. The country has an estimated 5.3 million HIV-positive citizens.
Activists promised to keep pressure on the government to ensure that the treatment program is fully implemented. Mark Heywood of the Treatment Action Campaign, an influential AIDS activist group, welcomed the additional funding but said the government needs to speed up the movement of money to front-line services and improve monitoring of how it is spent.