The head of South
Africa's National AIDS Council has voiced optimism that
the country is on track to meet its five-year targets for
preventing and treating the disease, despite the
mistrust and mudslinging that has engulfed the Health
Mlambo-Ngquka, who is also South Africa's deputy president,
gave her upbeat assessment Monday after chairing the
first meeting of the council since it launched a new
five-year plan in May to halve the number of new
infections, around 1,000 per day, and extend treatment to
80% of those in need by 2011.
''We are on
track,'' she told a news conference, while stressing that
many challenges lay ahead.
An estimated 5.4
million South Africans are infected with the AIDS virus,
the largest number in any country in the world, and about
900 people die each day of the disease.
The meeting of
the council--which encompasses government ministries,
volunteer organizations and AIDS service organizations,
trade unions, business leaders, and people living with
the disease--took place in the shadow of last
month's dismissal of Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe
Madlala-Routledge, who was one of the driving forces behind
the new plan.
minister was ostensibly sacked for taking an unauthorized
business trip, but most observers said she was the victim of
a vendetta by Health Minister Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang, who has promoted garlic and
beetroot as an AIDS remedy while emphasizing the problems
with antiretroviral drugs.
Tshabalala-Msimang was sidelined with health problems for
more than six months, and it was during her absence
that the new plan was drawn up. Since her return she
has been dogged by newspaper allegations of alcohol
Democratic Alliance said Monday that it would press ahead
with efforts to ask the minister in parliament about her
alleged conviction for theft while she worked at a
hospital in Botswana in the mid 1970s. An opposition
lawmaker was ejected and suspended for five days from
parliament last week after he tried to press the question.
An African National Congress official has conceded
that the ruling party knew of the conviction.
meeting, the Treatment Action Campaign warned that much
of the momentum present at the launch of the plan had been
lost. ''It worries us that the Ministry of Health's
commitment to the many activities, goals, and
objectives of the National Strategic Plan is
unclear,'' it said.
Mark Heywood, a
Treatment Action Campaign activist and vice chairman of
the national AIDS Council, said that he was reassured that
government was in fact serious about tackling the
disease. Six government ministers attended the meeting
in the capital, Pretoria.
''I wouldn't say
people's fears have been put to rest because there is
still political dynamics going on. But I think we have
crossed the threshold,'' Heywood said in a telephone
interview. ''In the big scheme of things, people who
want to deal properly with this epidemic are
Heywood said the
government seemed committed to improving therapy to stop
HIV infected mothers passing on the virus to their unborn
child by using two drugs recommended by the World
Health Organization rather than one, as is currently
the norm in many South African hospitals. This has been
one of the main demands of the Treatment Action Campaign,
but the health minister has balked.
want the government to increase testing, prevention ,and
treatment programs. The government says it is hampered by a
lack of capacity and staff.
that, according to Health Department estimates at the
meeting, it would cost 45 billion rand ($6.2 billion) to
implement the plan over the next five years. This is
far more than has been allocated by the Treasury.
300,000 people have received antiretroviral medicine in
public-sector hospitals and clinics since the government
started distributing drugs four years ago, and about
200,000 more are likely to begin receiving the
medication through the private sector.
But activists and
government officials alike say they have no idea of the
exact number of people receiving treatment. The
country's poor patient-record system makes it
difficult to track the frequency of drug side effects
or patients who have discontinued treatment. One of the aims
of the new plan is to improve monitoring and evaluation so
that there is a better understanding of the success of
prevention and treatment.
prevention campaign recently took a knock after the
Health Ministry recalled 5 million condoms and confiscated
millions more from warehouses of a company accused of
paying a bribe in order to get a false quality
assurance permit. (AP)