South Africa may lack funds to launch HIV treatment program

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com August 15 2003 11:00 PM ET

Officials with South Africa's health ministry say that it's unlikely the department will have the funds necessary to launch a nationwide anti-HIV drug treatment plan as promised by federal officials earlier this month, The [Toronto] Globe and Mail reports. Government officials on August 8 called on the ministry to develop and launch a national HIV treatment program by October 1. But many AIDS activists in the AIDS-ravaged nation were skeptical of the government's plans, and now even government officials say the timetable may be too ambitious. The chief stumbling block is the price of anti-HIV medications, which government officials say South Africa cannot afford. The nation's budget allocates $1 billion for the program in 2004, but ministry officials say a full treatment plan that includes only 120,000 of the country's estimated 5 million HIV-positive people could cost as much as $1.8 billion.

"The real hard work starts now," Zackie Achmat, chair of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, told the Globe and Mail. "South Africa has some of the best health care infrastructure in the developing world, but our public services are overburdened. Antiretroviral provision based on universal access will require a clear plan, training of health workers, and further decreases in medicine and diagnostic prices." He also warned government officials that even though there are significant obstacles to launching the program, AIDS activists in the country will not "condone any foot-dragging or the invention of new obstacles." The activists may relaunch a nationwide civil disobedience campaign if the government does not follow through on its pledge to begin offering anti-HIV medications to some of the nation's AIDS sufferers.