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Nevirapine to be Distributed in Some KwaZulu-Natal Hospitals by July, Health Minister Says
Zweli Mkhize, health minister of the South African province
KwaZulu-Natal, where more than one-third of pregnant women are HIV-positive, on Monday announced that the AIDS drug nevirapine, an antiretroviral that reduces the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission, may be available by July in 20 major KwaZulu-Natal hospitals, Agence
France-Presse reports. Researchers who have been administering the drug at certain pilot sites have "made good progress" but have not yet "finished" their work, Mkhize said (Agence France-Presse, 1/28). "I am not saying all the work is complete, but there is some indication of what can be done ... but it cannot be done immediately," Mkhize said, adding that "it is not as simple as going around giving the drug to mothers" (Johannesburg Business Day, 1/29). The plan, which Mkhize "stressed" was a "very rough guidelin[e]," would make the drug available to the province's 40 smaller hospitals "over time," Agence-France Presse reports. Mkhize's statement follows last week's announcement by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Lionel Mtshali that nevirapine would be made available to "all
HIV-positive pregnant women." South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Monday "condemned" the way the province was handling issues related to nevirapine and said that Mtshali's announcement created "unnecessary expectations." Mkhize has arranged a meeting with the provincial cabinet and the national government and "hope[s]" the national government will support KwaZulu-Natal's decision to distribute nevirapine. According to media reports, some South African doctors have already prescribed the drug "in defiance of government policy." However, no disciplinary action would be taken against KwaZulu-Natal doctors who prescribed the drug, Mkhize said (Agence
France-Presse, 1/28). South Africa's national government, led by President Thabo Mbeki, who has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, does not support widespread distribution of nevirapine (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/25).
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