South African Government Will Appeal Court Ruling on Mandatory Provision of Nevirapine for HIV-Positive Pregnant Women
South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang today announced that the government will appeal last week's High Court ruling that ordered the government to create a plan to provide the antiretroviral drug nevirapine to all HIV-positive pregnant women in the public health system by March 31, the Associated Press reports. "We have instructed our legal counsel to appeal the judgment to the Constitutional Court as soon as practicable. Having examined the reasoning of the judgment and the orders made, we came to the conclusion that this judgment could have far-reaching implications in defining our constitutional democracy and in shaping the state's responsibility for the delivery of social services," she said in a statement (Cohen, Associated Press, 12/19). The lawsuit was originally filed this summer by the Treatment Action Campaign, the Children's Rights Center and Haroon Saloojee, a physician in charge of community pediatrics at the University of the Witwatersrand, against the South African Department of Health and eight of nine provincial health departments. In a 70-page ruling, Pretoria High Court Judge Chris Botha said on Friday that the government was "obliged" to provide the drug -- which can reduce the risk of vertical HIV transmission by half -- under the constitutional right to health treatment. Botha gave the government until March 31 to create a comprehensive plan for dispensing the drug and reducing vertical transmission throughout the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/14). Nathan Geffen, a spokesperson for TAC, called the government's decision to appeal "regrettable," adding that his organization is "concerned that this delay will result in further unnecessary HIV infections and loss of life" (Associated Press, 12/19). Tshabalala-Msimang said that the appeal is not meant to halt the creation of a program to prevent vertical transmission, but "is aimed at clarifying a constitutional and jurisdictional matter which -- if left vague -- could throw the executive policy-making into disarray and create confusion about the principle of the separation of powers, which is a cornerstone of our democracy" (Agence France-Presse, 12/19).
Government Content to Play 'Buffoon,' Editorial Says
"The South African government, its reputation already tattered by President Thabo Mbeki's misguided AIDS policy, seems to make matters worse," an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial states, saying that officials "wast[ed] time debating whether to appeal a judge's order to provide antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women." Mbeki has publicly questioned the causal link between HIV and AIDS, and he has also said that antiretroviral drugs are toxic. The editorial states that the government is "balking, following a president determined to discredit the drug," and as a result, "a country expected to take a leadership role on a continent plagued by the AIDS epidemic instead appears the buffoon." The editorial states that although poverty and malnutrition certainly "aggravate HIV and AIDS," they "should not be obstacles" to prevention and treatment, especially since nevirapine is being offered free of charge by the drug's manufacturer. "Every day that the government delays implementing the court order brings another 200 HIV-positive babies into the world," the editorial concludes (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/18).