In ‘Major’ Policy Shift, South Africa to Provide HIV/AIDS Drugs, Counseling to Sexual Assault Survivors
In a "major" policy shift, the South African government said yesterday that it would provide post-exposure prophylaxis antiretroviral treatment for survivors of rape and sexual assault, the AP/Nando Times reports. The drugs will be part of a "comprehensive care package" for sexual assault survivors that will also include counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and HIV. The government said in a statement, "[Sexual assault] [s]urvivors will be counseled on the use of antiretrovirals as a preventive drug for HIV so that they make an informed choice. If they so choose, they will be provided with such drugs at public health institutions." The government also said it would soon release a national protocol on the provision of antiretroviral drugs for sexual assault survivors. The AP/Nando Times reports that the government did not give a reason for its policy change (Cohen, AP/Nando Times, 4/17). National policy had previously barred the distribution of post-exposure antiretrovirals to sexual assault survivors in public health facilities (Reuters, 4/17). AIDS activists hailed the government's decision. "It's good news beyond belief. Common sense has prevailed. ... [W]e applaud the government for doing the right thing," Zackie Achmat, chair of the South African AIDS group Treatment Action Campaign, said (AP/Nando Times, 4/17).
Expanded Nevirapine Distribution Ahead?
The decision to allow sexual assault survivors access to antiretrovirals marks "the most sweeping shift yet" in South African AIDS policy, Reuters reports. In addition, the government yesterday "hinted" at plans to implement a nationwide program to dispense nevirapine in order to prevent vertical HIV transmission. Although the government currently only offers nevirapine for this purpose at 18 pilot sites, it said yesterday in a statement that the country's Department of Health is working on a plan to offer universal access to nevirapine and that this plan would be "completed as soon as possible in preparation for the post-December 2002 period." Such statements, coupled with the change in policy regarding sexual assault survivors, indicate that the government is "mov[ing] closer to acknowledging the link between HIV and AIDS," which President Thabo Mbeki has publicly questioned, Reuters reports (Reuters, 4/17). The government is currently appealing to the nation's Constitutional Court a ruling by the Pretoria High Court that it must expand access to nevirapine through the public health system (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/4).