Satcher Addresses HIV/AIDS Panel in South Africa, Signs Agreement with Nation’s Health Minister
While U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher told reporters in Pretoria Tuesday that the benefits of antiretroviral drugs "outweigh" the risks, leading the U.S. government to provide the medication to HIV/AIDS patients, he added that the United States and South Africa remain in "different places" in their ability to fund such an effort, the African News Service/WOZA Internet reports. During the press briefing, held by the U.S. South Africa Bi-National Commission's special meeting on HIV/AIDS' Health Working Group, Satcher also said that he would not "second-guess" the decision by the South African government -- which has cited the drugs' "alleged toxicity" and "high price tag" -- to deny antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS patients in public hospitals. "Most medicines have a level of toxicity, and one has to decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks," Satcher said, adding, "In the United States, antiretroviral drugs were particularly successful in preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child. They were also used to treat people with AIDS at a cost of between $12,000 and $15,000 per person per year." In addition, Satcher and South African Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, co-chairs of the Health Working Group, signed a joint statement of financial and political cooperation on HIV/AIDS initiatives -- including expanding research sites to prevent vertical HIV transmission, upgrading pilot projects and strengthening surveillance of STDs and "behavioral factors" that could lead to HIV/AIDS (Harvey, African News Service/WOZA Internet, 11/29). Tshbalala-Msimang added that the U.S. government will help South Africa to develop policy guidelines for private sector use of antiretroviral drugs.
Truth in Numbers?
The announcement came after the United Nations released "gloomy" HIV/AIDS predictions for South Africa. According to U.N. estimates, South Africa's economic growth rate will likely drop 0.3% to 0.4% per year, resulting in a 17% dip in the nation's GDP. Jesper Morch, the U.N. Children's Fund representative in South Africa, predicted that the AIDS epidemic would "wip[e] out" $22 billion of the nation's economy, warning, "Beware, we have not seen the worst yet." Morch also said that HIV/AIDS would have a "significantly negative impact" on growth and GDP, while the unemployment rate would remain "largely unchanged." Citing the potential for one million orphans by 2005 and two million by 2010, he pointed out that South Africa has not "adequately prepared" for the "catastrophe waiting just around the corner." In addition, Stephen Kramer, head of the Metropolitan AIDS unit, reported that 13.5% of South Africa's workforce had contracted HIV, and while only 0.5% suffered from AIDS, he expected that rate to jump to 2.74% in 2010 (Sidley, Business Day, 11/29).