TAC Threatens to Sue South African Government for Failing to Provide Antiretrovirals to Pregnant Women
The South African AIDS group Treatment Action Campaign said on Tuesday that it will take the South African government to court for not allowing HIV-positive pregnant women to receive nevirapine and AZT to prevent vertical transmission, Reuters reports. The group said it has "no option" but to seek a court ruling that would "uphold citizens' constitutional rights to proper health care" by allowing the drugs to be dispensed to pregnant women with HIV (Swindells, Reuters, 6/26). The South African government has "refused" to allow the drugs to be distributed through its public health system because of concerns over cost, the drugs' toxicity and the "ability of the country's health care infrastructure to deliver" the medicines (Dow Jones International News, 6/27). TAC "countered" that the medicines are not too costly, noting a study commissioned by the South African Health Ministry that shows that a national program of nevirapine to prevent vertical transmission "would save 14,000 babies at a cost of $10.9 million per year, or just $779 per child." Mark Heywood, national secretary for TAC, said that giving nevirapine to pregnant women could reduce the number of South African children born with HIV by 20,000. Although the country has established research sites that would dispense nevirapine and provide counseling services, Heywood said that the sites are "limited, too late and a drop in the ocean" (Reuters, 6/26). The Congress of South African Trade Unions, a "strong ally" of the ruling African National Congress, said that the government's "excuses" for not providing nevirapine are "prevarication[s]" and amount to "fiddling whilst Rome burns." The group pointed to Brazil as a successful example of a country with "similar income disparities" that has provided medication to its HIV-positive citizens (Dow Jones International News, 6/27). South African Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told delegates gathered at the U.N. General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS that the South African government will provide HIV-positive pregnant women with a "package of care" to prevent vertical transmission (Reuters, 6/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.