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South Africa
promises improved HIV/AIDS policies

South Africa
promises improved HIV/AIDS policies

South Africa has pledged to step up efforts in HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and treatment after years of hesitant, often ineffectual response to the epidemic, TheNew York Times reported on Thursday.

The nation's deputy minister of health, Noziza Madlala-Routledge, said in an interview that the revamped HIV/AIDS strategy may include plans for widespread distribution of antiretroviral drugs, a boost in the number of medical workers across the country, and revising protocol for treating HIV-positive pregnant women. South Africa is currently home to one out of eight of the world's HIV infections.

Under the tutelage of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the South African National AIDS Council has undergone crucial restructuring and expansion. The Times quoted President Thabo Mbeki as labeling the AIDS crisis "bigger than any individual, minister, or department."

This marks a significant point of departure for South African HIV/AIDS policy, as President Mbeki once infamously denied the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS. The BBC quoted him in 2000 as saying that "extreme poverty" was to blame for Africa's ills. The nearly unanimous international criticism that followed led to silence from Mbeki on the issue.

In addition to Mbeki's influence, minister of health Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was a staunch advocate of dietary changes and nutritional supplements as a treatment for AIDS in place of traditional antiretroviral treatment. However, since Tshabalala-Msimang entered a hospital for treatment of a respiratory infection in September, her influence has waned considerably and Madlala-Routledge has taken over shaping national HIV/AIDS policy.

"We've definitely reached a turning point in our country, with civil society and government working in concert," the Times quoted Madlala-Routledge as saying. "We recognize that the campaign against AIDS needs all of us." (The Advocate)

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