South African Constitutional Court Hears Arguments on Government’s Second Appeal of Order to Provide Nevirapine
The South African Constitutional Court today heard arguments in the government's appeal of a High Court execution order requiring it to provide nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent vertical HIV transmission, SAPA/SABCNews.com reports. More than 100 AIDS activists "packed" the courtroom (SAPA/SABCNews.com, 4/3). The government appealed the High Court decision on the premise that the court does not have jurisdiction to intervene on national policy issues (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/22). The Treatment Access Campaign, the AIDS advocacy group that brought the initial lawsuit over nevirapine access against the government, held a vigil this morning before the court hearing at its headquarters in Johannesburg. After lighting candles in remembrance of children who had died from AIDS-related causes, about 150 TAC members then proceeded to the courthouse for the hearing before the 11-judge panel. Jonathan Berger, a lawyer with TAC, said that the government had done "everything in its power" to delay implementing a comprehensive program to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission (South African Press Association, 4/3). According to SABC News, a decision is expected in the case today and will "definitely" be made tomorrow if not today (Slier, SABC News, 4/3). A video clip of the SABC News segment is available online.
ANC Document Calls Antiretroviral Drugs 'Poison'
On the eve of the South African government's appeal, the Guardian yesterday closely examined an internal African National Congress document that questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and called antiretroviral drugs "poison." The 114-page document, which was distributed to high-level ANC officials last month at a meeting of the National Executive Council, was composed by Peter Mokaba, an ANC member of Parliament, and can be "seen as doing no more than giving voice to [President Thabo] Mbeki's beliefs" on HIV/AIDS, especially his belief that poverty, not HIV, causes the disease, the Guardian reports. Mbeki was "forced to curb" his public statements on the disease by domestic and international criticism, but the Guardian reports that he has been "pushing his controversial claims within the ANC and its trade union allies." Among the reports' claims is that former Mbeki spokesperson Parks Mankahlana and 12-year-old AIDS activist Nkosi Johnson, both of whom died of AIDS-related causes last year, were "poisoned to death" by antiretroviral drugs. "[Mankahlana] died, vanquished by the antiretroviral drugs he was wrongly persuaded to consume. He died prematurely, but the professionals who fed him the drugs that killed him remain free to feed others with the same drugs. They lived to tell us and the world that their patient had died of a virus that had never been found in his body," the report said, adding that Johnson, "too, died, vanquished by the antiretroviral drugs he was forced to consume" by his adoptive mother. The report also claims that an "omnipotent apparatus" of drug manufacturers, scientists and western governments is promoting the traditional view that HIV causes AIDS as a "means of denigrating Africans while trying to profit from their misery and kill them." The report also accuses Dr. Glenda Gray, a pediatrician who won the Nelson Mandela human rights award earlier this year for her work with people with HIV/AIDS, of "experimenting" on black people with antiretroviral drugs and says a pregnant woman died while under her care because of the drugs. Gray called the allegations "preposterous," adding that "no one" died due to drug toxicity during her study (McGreal, Guardian, 4/2).
Nutrition Campaigns Aim to Manage HIV
South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Monday announced that the government has designated April for the improvement of health services throughout the country, the South African Press Association reports. The campaign, called "Health in Action: A Month of Mobilization," will focus on poverty relief and nutrition and will include all government social service branches. A large part of the nutrition component will focus on self-sustaining vegetable gardens. "Our efforts to cure tuberculosis and manage HIV/AIDS are often undermined by the fact that many affected people are hungry and malnourished. We want to promote food gardens as one of several measures to tackle this problem," she explained (South African Press Association, 4/1). The opposition Democratic Alliance party criticized the initiative, saying the government "should rectify the public relations and policy disasters relating to HIV/AIDS before embarking on a national health month" (South African Press Association, 4/2).
Thompson Arrives in South Africa
In related news, U.S. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson is expected to arrive today in South Africa to "strengthen the existing good working relationship between the two countries in the fields of public health and human sciences," the South African Press Association reports. Thompson, who is accompanied by several members of Congress as well as representatives from NIH, the CDC and the defense department's Office of African Affairs, is making the trip at Tshabalala-Msimang's request. He was in Mozambique over the weekend and will travel to Botswana and Ivory Coast before returning to the United States on Saturday. In a statement, HHS called HIV/AIDS a "scourge [that] threatens to destroy economies, social systems and the very fabric of local communities," and said that Thompson's trip will "build upon the Bush administration's strong support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria" (South African Press Association, 4/2).