South Africa to Allot Additional $357 Million to Fight AIDS Over Next Three YearsSouth African officials have allotted an additional $357 million over the next three years to the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to the fiscal year 2002-2003 budget plan presented yesterday to Parliament by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. The budget calls for $86 million in the next fiscal year to go toward the provision of condoms, HIV/AIDS education and counseling and care programs for those living with the disease. Some of the money would also fund an expansion of the nation's test program to distribute in public hospitals the antiretroviral drug nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent vertical transmission of the virus. The budget calls for the program's funding to be incrementally increased until it reaches $13 million in FY 2004-2005. The additional $270 million would support the same initiatives over the following two years (AP/Baltimore Sun, 2/21). Before Manuel addressed Parliament, AIDS activists protested outside, calling for expanded treatment access for all people with the virus (Ferreira, Agence France-Presse, 2/20). Manuel told the legislative body that the government will not provide treatment in the near future because it remains too expensive. However, the budget noted that treatment "continues to be the subject of various research projects" (Agence France-Presse, 2/20). The budget plan also "underscor[ed] the impact" AIDS has had on South Africa, calling the disease "the most serious challenge facing the country and the health services." AIDS activists welcomed the funding increase but said that the government still needs to do more to combat the disease. "This is a bold step forward by the Department of Finance, but it is still not enough to resolve the problem or even to begin to address the real problem of premature deaths due to a lack of access to treatment for people living with HIV," the South Africa-based AIDS Consortium said in a statement (Boyle, Reuters, 2/20).
South African Communist Party Calls for Meeting on AIDS
The South African Communist Party yesterday called for an emergency meeting with political and trade representatives on the subject of HIV/AIDS. "Our people and the communities expect decisive leadership and action on HIV/AIDS from our government and the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance as a whole," the SACP said in a statement. The African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions have been "long-time allies" of the SACP. The SACP said it was asking for the meeting in light of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's rebuke of the government of Gauteng province for its plan to provide nevirapine to all HIV-positive pregnant women through the public health system. "The SACP central committee understood that the government is using the 18 pilot projects (in the country) to research the provision of nevirapine, its efficacy and related capacity and resource issues which must be addressed with a view that provinces which are ready must start with the provision of nevirapine," the statement said, explaining why it thought Tshabalala-Msimang's rebuke was "inconsistent" with previous assertions (Agence France-Presse, 2/20).
Signs That Democracy is Working?
South Africa's pluralist democracy -- characterized by a multi-party system, provincial governments that "stand up to the center" and the "existence of at least some debate" within the ruling ANC -- is "cracking President Thabo Mbeki's misguided reluctance to confront the AIDS crisis," a Washington Post editorial states. Over the last week there have been several indications of a "shift" within the ANC, the Post says, noting former President Nelson Mandela's criticism of the debate over HIV/AIDS and Gauteng province Premier Mbhazima Shilowa's decision to provide nevirapine in defiance of national policy. Such pressure from within his own party may force Mbeki, who has publicly questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, to take a different stance on the disease, the editorial states. However, "[i]f opposition parties [had] presented a real challenge to Mbeki at the center, he might have ditched his tragic views on AIDS long ago," the editorial adds, noting that South Africa's system is "far from perfect." But if provincial governments continue to assert themselves, "even imperfect democracy will have proved itself superior to the autocratic alternative," the Post concludes (Washington Post, 2/21).