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South Africa sees
1 million on AIDS drugs by 2011

South Africa sees
1 million on AIDS drugs by 2011

South Africa sees up to 1 million people being on antiretroviral drugs by 2011 under a national plan to fight AIDS, a disease that is estimated to kill 1,000 South Africans a day, officials said on Friday.

South Africa launched a five-year HIV/AIDS strategy last year, vowing to cut new infections and deliver treatment and support to at least 80% its people infected with HIV by 2011.

Officials will present a final draft of the plan to a health summit next week, after which it will be approved and adopted by the country's National AIDS Council.

Acting health minister Jeff Radebe, who is standing in for the controversial, ailing health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, called the plan a huge step in the right direction.

"There is an emerging consensus on what needs to be done in South Africa. Our job is to make sure this does not fail," Radebe told a news conference.

More than 5 million of South Africa's 45 million people are already believed to be infected with HIV, while close to two million people have died from the disease.

AIDS activists say the disease kills about 1,000 South Africans every day and have long accused the government of failing to come to grips with the crisis. United Nations and South African government estimates of AIDS deaths are close to this.

Nomonde Xundu, the health ministry's chief director for HIV/AIDS, said the plan set an ambitious target of enrolling one million South Africans on antiretroviral drugs by 2011--up from about 200,000 now.

"We originally discussed a target of about 650,000 people on antiretrovirals by 2011, but then people said perhaps we should push that a little further, to about a million or so," she said.

But she added that the target--which matches the current number of HIV-positive South Africans now in need of the lifesaving drugs--might prove difficult to reach.

"There is stigma...we're not getting people coming forward to access these services," she said.

Xundu said the plan would seek to halve new annual HIV infections from the estimated 400,000 seen in 2005 and would cost in the region of 25 billion rand ($3.3 billion), most of it to be paid out of South Africa's budget.

Health analysts and AIDS activists have hailed South Africa's aggressive new approach to its AIDS crisis, which has long been dogged by political controversy and accusations of government foot-dragging.

Tshabalala-Msimang, who has been on sick leave for much of the past four months, had come in for particular attack for her reluctance to back antiretroviral drugs and advocacy of natural remedies including garlic and beetroot as HIV treatments. (Andrew Quinn, Reuters)

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