ANC’s Executive Committee Issues Statement Affirming South Africa’s Current HIV/AIDS Policy
South Africa's ruling African National Congress yesterday issued a statement affirming the government's current HIV/AIDS policy and saying that a court order to provide nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus "defies logic," Reuters reports. ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said that the party is "convinced that it is incorrect for anyone to prescribe a specific drug from the bench, let alone one whose efficacy is still under investigation," adding that the "order to implement the court judgment pending the constitutional ruling defies logic. ... We shall not be stampeded into precipitate action by pseudo-science, an uncaring drive for profits or an opportunistic clamor for cheap popularity" (Chege, Reuters, 3/20). Pretoria High Court Judge Chris Botha ruled in December that the government must expand access to nevirapine, which can reduce the risk of vertical HIV transmission by 50%, to all public hospitals. The government then appealed the decision, saying that the country's Constitutional Court had to decide whether the courts could intervene on policy issues. Earlier this month, the Pretoria High Court issued an execution order stating that the government can appeal the ruling to the Constitutional Court. However, Botha said that the government must continue with the program expansion while its appeal is pending (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/11).
Keeping the Status Quo
The ANC statement -- drafted by the party's executive committee at a three-day meeting on HIV/AIDS over the weekend -- calls HIV/AIDS "one of the greatest challenges that our society has ever faced" but says that preventing vertical HIV transmission "entails more than just the administration of antiretrovirals" and includes "complex procedures to manage delivery of newborns [and] the health status and well-being of their mothers." The statement noted that several questions, including doubts about the safety and efficacy of the drug, remain to be answered. For that reason, the government will not yet expand a nevirapine pilot program that currently operates at 18 sites nationwide. The statement said the nation's best strategy for HIV prevention is to follow the "ABC strategy" of HIV prevention -- "Abstain, Be faithful, Condomize" (ANC statement, 3/20). The statement "drew fire" from opposition leaders and HIV/AIDS activists. "The continued refusal to roll out an antiretroviral program has dashed the hope of many HIV-positive people as well as the 200 babies born HIV-positive every day," Democratic Alliance official Sandy Kalyan said (Reuters, 3/20). Nathan Geffen, a spokesperson for the Treatment Action Campaign, challenged the report's assertion that antiretroviral drugs are ineffective, saying the ANC members "driving" the debate on AIDS are "dissidents who do not have the courage to admit it." He added that the "silenced voice within the ANC must find the courage to speak out" (South Africa Daily Dispatch, 3/21).