South African Medical Association Endorses Use of Post-Exposure Treatment for Rape Survivors
The South African Medical Association, which represents 17,000 doctors, two-thirds of whom work in the public sector, on Tuesday announced its support for physicians who prescribe post-exposure prophylaxis antiretroviral treatment for rape survivors, despite the national government's policy against such treatment, the South African Press Association reports. Public hospitals and clinics are not permitted to distribute the drugs to people who have been raped because the government says there is "no evidence" of the drugs' effectiveness in reducing the risk of HIV transmission. However, SAMA said yesterday that PEP therapy was a "worthwhile exercise" and noted that it would be "unethical" not to inform patients of the possible benefits of the treatment. "Doctors are obliged to act in the best interests of their patients. Government policy does not determine medical ethics," Dr. Anant Chetty, chair of SAMA's human rights, law and ethics committee, said. The organization also said in a statement that it supports the right of HIV-positive pregnant women to receive antiretroviral medications to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, adding that it would stand behind any member who faced legal trouble for prescribing the drugs. The announcement comes a week after opposition politicians "expressed disgust" with the Northern Cape government because provincial Health Minister Dipuo Peters chastised hospital officials for allowing a physician to provide AZT to a nine-month-old infant who was gang raped last year. In turn, the hospital sent a letter to doctors reiterating national and provincial government policy against PEP therapy for rape survivors (South African Press Association, 1/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.