South African Health Minister Refutes Claims of Recent Report Challenging Government AIDS Policy
South African Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, in a letter to the editor of the London Guardian, responded yesterday to a Guardian article published last week that describes a report from the South African health department challenging the government's policies on HIV/AIDS (Tshabalala-Msimang, Guardian, 9/26). According to the Guardian, the report "directly challenges many" of South African President Thabo Mbeki's HIV/AIDS policies, including his questioning of the causal link between HIV and AIDS and his claims that only a "tiny proportion" of annual deaths in South Africa are caused by AIDS-related complications. The report, prepared before Mbeki's proposal to cut the country's HIV/AIDS budget, also stated that it is government policy "not to provide any meaningful care for large numbers of South Africans" with HIV/AIDS. The report concluded that the government's AIDS policies are "increasingly unstable from a political, moral and legal perspective" as HIV infection rates increase, particularly among the poor. The authors of the report included health ministry officials, but it was not known whether Tshabalala-Msimang supported the document (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/21).
In her letter to the Guardian, Tshabalala-Msimang states that the report was only a first draft and had not yet reached her desk or "been discussed or edited at any level." Tshabalala-Msimang refutes many of the report's statements, including its claim that the government does not provide adequate HIV treatment. She writes that the government "is not opposed" to antiretrovirals, but that the cost of the drugs puts them "beyond our reach." Tshabalala-Msimang states that although areas of South African AIDS policy "require further improvement," she adds that "to twist this statement into the suggestion that South Africa has a deliberate policy of providing inadequate care or even withholding care is a disgraceful distortion" and "an insult to all those who struggle daily to fight the challenges posed by poverty and underdevelopment, including HIV/AIDS in our country." She added that the latest version of the report calls for additional funding to fight HIV/AIDS and "contradict[s] Mbeki's 'assertions' on HIV/AIDS by conceding that HIV is the cause of AIDS." She concludes, "All our HIV/AIDS strategies are based on the premise that HIV causes AIDS" (Guardian, 9/26).