South African Government Takes Out Newspaper Ad Clarifying HIV/AIDS Policy, Position on Nevirapine
The South African government today placed an advertisement in three Johannesburg newspapers clarifying its HIV/AIDS policy and position on the provision of the antiretroviral drug nevirapine for the purpose of preventing vertical HIV transmission, Agence France-Presse reports. The full-page ad, which appears in the Star, the Sowetan and the Afrikaans daily Beeld with the heading "Government's program to reduce HIV infection in babies -- A Message From The Government," quotes "extensively" from President Thabo Mbeki's Feb. 8 state of the nation address, reiterating that prevention of mother-to-child transmission is "part of Government's program of HIV/AIDS prevention" and part of a "broader strategy to combat HIV/AIDS that depends critically on building partnerships across society." The ad says that the government stands by its policy of providing nevirapine through 18 test sites, where officials are able to "monitor side effects and build the capacity to supply the drug effectively." The ad does not say whether the government has plans to extend the program but notes that "[a]ny expansion of the pilot sites will continue to be guided by research results and by available resources -- including human resources and the standards we have set for comprehensive care" (Agence France-Presse, 2/22). Treatment advocates in December won a court decision requiring the government to extend the test project to include all public hospitals. However, health ministry officials have declined to expand the project, citing "safety, cost and capacity issues as obstacles to universal access" (Reuters, 2/21). In the ad, the government states that it will continue with its appeal of the court ruling, "not because we are against expanding the current mother-to-child program ... [but] because we need to gain clarity on whether the courts or the elected government decides on the detail of providing health services." The ad notes, "This is a critical question about the division of powers in our democracy. The wisdom of the Constitutional Court should be applied to it" (South African Press Association, 2/22).
LAT Reviews South Africa's Situation
Today's advertisement appears to be prompted by growing dissent within the ruling African National Congress over the government's HIV/AIDS policy. That rift was exacerbated when the head of Gauteng, an ANC-controlled province, announced on Monday that his government would provide nevirapine through the public health system in defiance of national policy. The Los Angeles Times today reviews the political developments over the last week, including the decision by several provinces to break rank with the national government on HIV/AIDS and reaction from health, business and political leaders (Simmons, Los Angeles Times, 2/22). The full article is available online.