South African Finance Minister Announces Increase in HIV/AIDS Spending After Mbeki Says Government Will Not Boost Funding
South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told Parliament yesterday, while unveiling the nation's overall budget plan for the next three years, that he will increase the nation's spending to fight HIV/AIDS, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 10/30). Acknowledging that the disease was "taking an increasing toll of the living standards of the poor and vulnerable," he said he will increase funding "fourfold," including a $2.26 million allotment to provinces testing the use of nevirapine to prevent vertical HIV transmission. The Treatment Action Campaign, a South African AIDS advocacy group, is suing the government to expand the nevirapine pilot program to the entire national health system. Manuel also said he will increase funding for the Health Ministry's integrated strategy on AIDS, which addresses education and home care programs, from about $13 million to a little more than $58 million (Boyle, Reuters, 10/30). Manuel's move comes just a week after President Thabo Mbeki, who has publicly questioned the causal link between HIV and AIDS, told Parliament that the government had no plans to increase HIV/AIDS funding. "I do not believe that at this particular moment, the government is going to do anything to change the policy positions that it has announced in this regard," Mbeki said in response to questioning by members of Parliament. He went on to question the toxicity of antiretroviral drugs such as nevirapine and refuted reports that AIDS has become South Africa's leading cause of death (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/25).
Opposition Democratic Alliance Party Splits
In other South African news, the Democratic Alliance -- the main party opposing Mbeki's African National Congress and a vocal critic of his AIDS policies -- split on Friday in a "surprise" move, the Baltimore Sun reports. The New National Party, the party that grew out of the group responsible for apartheid, announced that it was leaving the Democratic Alliance -- previously composed of the NNP, the Democratic Party and the Federal Alliance. The split could "significantly alter regional politics" by giving more seats to the ANC in the "longtime opposition stronghold" of Western Cape Province and give the ANC control over all nine South African provinces, the Sun reports. The split is expected to "trigger a flurry of special elections" across the country as NNP members elected as members of the Democratic Alliance resign their posts (Simmons, Baltimore Sun, 10/31).